Trade to Give Cubans a Taste of Economic Freedom
Mar 19, 2015
By Tim Burrack: Arlington, Iowa
Isolationism never works.
That's why President Obama was wise late last year to announce his
intention to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba. The United States may
open an embassy in Havana as soon as next month, when diplomats meet at
the Summit of the Americas in Panama.
It's about time. We need to talk and trade more with this island nation.
Cuba's Communist government seized power more than five decades ago. Way
back then, perhaps it made sense to try to cut Cuba off from the rest of
the world. The regime in Havana, after all, is one of the world's most
oppressive. We couldn't pretend as if nothing had happened.
Yet we'd be foolish to believe that our traditional approach to Cuba has
done any good. Its intentions were admirable, but its results are
disappointing. We certainly haven't helped the Cuban people: They're
just as poor and oppressed as ever.
When I visited the island nation eight years ago as part of an
agricultural delegation, I saw the poverty of the place with my own
eyes. I also sensed the ingenuity of the people. Havana is full of
classic cars, well maintained by expert mechanics, on account of the
fact that nobody can afford to buy a new one. I felt transported back in
Yet our own policy of isolationism is what's stuck in the past. If we
care about Cuba's fate—to say nothing of our own economic opportunity—we
should move into the future with a policy of engagement.
Many Americans favor this new approach, according to a January survey by
the Pew Research Center. Sixty-three percent approve of reestablishing
diplomatic ties with Cuba, and 66 percent support an end to the trade
This would help American farmers. We're already allowed to export a
portion of what we grow and raise to Cuba. Under an exception to the
embargo granted in 2000, we can sell food there. Soybeans, rice, and
wheat are popular products, and Cuba is actually our fifth-largest
foreign market for frozen chicken.
Yet we don't sell nearly what we could, on account of a requirement that
Cuba purchase our goods with cash rather than credit. By lifting this
restriction and others, American farmers easily could export more than
$1 billion in food each year. Last year, however, food sales dropped to
$291 million from a high of $710 million in 2008, according to Reuters.
With 11 million people, Cuba represents a big and almost untapped
market, just 90 miles from our shores. The U.S. Grains Council recently
estimated that if our farmers dominated its markets the way they should,
Cuba would be the 12th largest destination for American corn.
More trade would help America's bottom line—and it also might improve
living conditions in Cuba. Since Raul Castro succeeded his brother Fidel
as president in 2008, reports The Economist, "Cubans enjoy more everyday
freedoms." This includes economic freedom: About 20 percent of the
country's workers are now employed in an emerging private sector.
There can be no political freedom without economic freedom—and so
encouraging these positive steps may lead to even greater strides soon.
New interactions with American businesses and greater availability of
American products would give Cuba's people a better taste of economic
freedom, which leads to personal freedom.
People who lived in the Soviet Union during the Cold War testify to the
importance of the black-market trade in blue jeans and Beatles albums.
We should look forward to a time when Cuba's people, living in freedom,
reminisce about buying Major League Baseball jerseys and DVDs of
"American Sniper," as well as corn grown in Iowa and wheat from North
Cuba's government has tried to test our limits, with demands of
financial compensation for economic losses suffered during the embargo
and the transfer of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. These are
plainly absurd. Cuba also seeks removal from the Department of State's
list of terrorism sponsors—a request that probably deserves an unbiased
Let's keep on talking—and move on to trading more goods to create
Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm. He
serves as Vice-Chairman and volunteers as a Board Member of Truth About
Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade and @World_Farmers on Twitter | Truth About
Trade & Technology on Facebook.
Source: Trade to Give Cubans a Taste of Economic Freedom | Agweb.com -