The President Goes to Cuba

March 17, 2016

March 17, 2016

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you byJohn Deere and the National Corn Growers Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you. 

And now for today’s commentary—

President Obama is going to Cuba next week. A little over a year ago, he established diplomatic relations with that island country ninety miles from Florida. Credit the President for bringing to an end a 50-year effort to isolate that country. We should not have waited this long to expand trade and travel to Cuba.

I have been to Cuba three times. I was there just a year ago with an agriculture group hoping to open the door for expanded ag trade. President Obama will find the Cuban people to be friendly and happy to see a new open door policy. He will see a lot of old cars, and their tractors are just as old. Three-quarters of Cubans work for the government. They don’t go hungry because the government provides the food. They don’t earn a lot of money – doctors can make $75 a month. Their economy is going nowhere until more of their businesses are in private hands. Even Raul Castro recently said, “Either we change course or we sink.” I hope he means what he said. 

An ag industry has been trying to expand trade with Cuba for years, but there are trade restrictions which make it very difficult. Cuba imports 80% of their food but we only provide about 10%. It is a $2 billion ag market but, until we pass legislation to end our embargo, our share of that market is going nowhere.

Last week, Senate Ag Appropriations Chairman Moran held a hearing where Secretary Vilsack said – 

1. The embargo should be removed, and

 2. Pending its removal, FAS personnel need to develop contacts with Cuban authorities to position us to facilitate trade.

The encouraging point is that now we have our government interested in building a positive relationship. The ag industry has for a long time been trying to open the Cuban door. I don’t know when the Congress will be willing to pass legislation to normalize relations. We have public support, but there is still strong opposition. In fact, some of our Presidential candidates don’t want to have anything to do with Cuba.

Normal trade, travel, and business relations will take time. Restrictions are on both sides. You couldn’t buy a winter home in Cuba today if you wanted to.

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Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.