Once Fidel Castro took power in Cuba January 1, 1959, the relationship that theU.S. had with the island nation began to deteriorate. Castro quickly lost American support after he began to publicize privately owned land and companies. Each time an American-owned company was taken over by the state, the U.S. implemented their own countermeasures such as refusing to buy Cuban sugar or to supply them with much needed oil. By October 19, 1960, the Eisenhower administration had had enough and decided to impose a commercial, financial and economic embargo on Cuba. The next year, the U.S. Embassy in Havana was shut down, refusing visas to those still trying to flee the Castro-controlled Cuba.
Once Cuba aligned itself with the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War in 1962, its fate was sealed. Cuba was expelled from the Organization of American States, and President Kennedy widened the scope of Eisenhower’s trade restrictions, banning the import of products containing Cuban goods and all Cuban trade, excluding the non-subsidized sale of food and medicines.
More than 50 years later, on December 17, 2014, it was announced that after 18 months of secret negotiations, the U.S. would begin normalizing their relationship with Cuba. InMarch of this year, PresidentObama became the first sitting president to visit Cuba since 1959. However, while the embargo restrictions are loosening up, it’snot time to break out the Cuban cigars quite yet. President Obama can relax restrictions, but only Congress can completely lift the embargo.
Farmers across America have spoken out in favor of lifting the embargo on trade with Cuba, citing the significant financial gain the agriculture sector stands to make if farmers are allowed to sell to Cuba. That’s why groups from Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, Texas, Arkansas, Minnesota, Tennessee and Louisiana have all joined forces with Engage Cuba, a coalition of private companies and organizations working to end the trade and travel embargo with Cuba.
“Before we had an embargo, New Orleans was the number one port doing business with Cuba,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba. “It (Louisiana) is one of the largest rice-producing states in the country. Cuba consumes more rice per capita than any country in the Western Hemisphere.”
Currently, Cuba spends roughly $2 billion per year to import between 60 and 70 percent of its food. Because the U.S. sanctions limited sales to a cash-only basis and prohibit U.S. banks from financing the sales, Cuba has looked elsewhere for their import needs over the past few years. Last year, Cuba spent less than $300 million on U.S. food, mostly consisting of frozen chicken and soybeans.
Many claim that the lifting of the embargo would increase jobs across the U.S. and have a positive impact on local economies. For years, the trade barriers have been keeping U.S. businesses from benefiting from Cuba’s fertile market, consistently losing out to foreign competitors with no such restrictions. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, U.S. exports to Cuba could reach an estimated $6 billion a year nationwide if the embargo were lifted.
Though Congress has refused President Obama’s calls to lift theembargo, the Engage Cuba coalition is pushing to pass three pieces of legislation. The first is The Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2015, which would promote sales by allowing American farmers to offer financing to Cuban importers. The second is The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which would expand Cuba’s already growing markets and provide more opportunities for U.S. agribusinesses to export to Cuba. Lastly, The Cuba Trade Act of 2015 would permit private-sector industries in the U.S. to export goods and services to Cuba.
“Agricultural exports contribute about25 percent to the income of farmers and ranchers, so you can see the importance of foreign trade with other countries, including Cuba,” said Glen Jones, director of research and policy development for the Texas Farm Bureau and a member of the new Engage Cuba Texas State Council.
“We are very pleased to have a diverse list ofdynamic and engaged Texans willing to step up and call on Congress to lift the embargo that is costing Texas jobs and preventing economic development for the Cuban people,” Williams said in the statement. “It’s time to end 50 years of failed isolationist policy toward Cuba.”
Those opposed to lifting the embargo cite the fact that Cuba has not met the original conditions for lifting the embargo, including transitioning to a democracy and improving human rights. However, opponents of the embargo, including President Obama himself, see the embargo as a failed policy from the Cold War era that hasn’t done anything to improve human rights for over 50 years. It has, however, succeeded in adding to the hardship of the Cuban people while keeping Americans from economic opportunity.
Though no one would argue that Cuba has completely resolved its human rights issues, many feel that it is time to accept that the embargo isn’t benefiting anyone. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Well, after nearly 60 years, it seems that many Americans agree enough is enough. Only time will tell if Congress comes to agree.