The value and volume of products growers from Washington and other farm states export to Cuba has declined by almost a third over the past year. The drop off is due in part to the impact of the global recession and ongoing U.S. sanctions that have deprived the island nation of capital needed to purchase food from abroad. But the decline in purchases also is due to harsh financing restrictions on sales of U.S. farm products to Cuba.
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The omnibus spending bill signed into law by President Obama shortly before Christmas includes a provision that eases those financing restrictions, opening the way for a significant increase in food exports to Cuba. A press release from Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell's office cites research by staff at the independent International Trade Commission indicating that the change could boost the value of annual U.S. agriculture sales to Cuba by more than $450 million.
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This is particularly good news for Washington growers. They've been among the biggest losers under the 2004 financing restrictions requiring Cuba to deliver cash payments for agriculture purchases before products are shipped from the United States. Washington ranks 14th most affected of the 50 states in terms of the restrictions' impact on its agricultural industry, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Cuba Policy Foundation. The financing restrictions are costing Washington growers more than $29 million a year.
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The move to soften these restrictions is a welcome policy change — one that may help just a bit in sustaining what looks to be a slow recovery from this historic recession. But much more needs to be done to allow trade with Cuba on all fronts.
It's long been apparent that the nearly 50-year embargo against Cuba has not worked as intended. When President Eisenhower first imposed the economic embargo in 1960 and President Kennedy strengthened it a year later, the thinking was that isolating Cuba would bring down Fidel Castro's repressive regime. As it turned out, the policy has done more to prop up the regime than undermine it. Castro has used U.S. sanctions as a handy excuse for Cuba's miserable economic conditions.
Without the sanctions, the regime might well have been swept away in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its material and strategic support. Instead, the regime persists, no weaker than it was at the end of Cold War. Fidel, in ill health, stepped down on his own terms in 2008, anointing brother Raul to carry on his regime.
Life has not improved for the Cuban people under Raul. But it likely would under a more practical and less punishing U.S. policy toward Cuba. It's time Congress and the Obama administration dismantled what clearly is a failed policy. A new policy of engagement would better serve bout our national interest and the interest of the Cuban people.
Posted in Opinion, Editorial on Monday, January 4, 2010 12:15 am Updated: 2:30 pm.