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10 Jan 2009 - Open the Door

There is a growing feeling that the new President will bring a change to our relations with Cuba, just 90 miles off our coast. It is five decades ago now that Fidel Castro toppled a U.S.-backed dictator to take power in Cuba and our response was to impose a trade embargo that has been there ever since.

But President-elect, Barack Obama, is already saying that he favors relaxing restrictions on family travel and cash remittances by Cuban-Americans to Cuba, which this month marked the 50th anniversary of Castro’s revolution.

Now, how much further will the President-elect go? On the campaign trail, he said the embargo should stay in place to press for democratic reforms in Cuba, but he said he was open to dialogue with the Cuban leadership; and Cuba has welcomed the words from Mr. Obama. President Raoul Castro, who took over from his older brother last year has offered to free political dissidents in exchange for the release of five convicted Cuban spies in U.S. prisons as a gesture to help set up a meeting with the Obama administration. It is very doubtful that the embargo will be lifted quickly, but U.S. businesses are hoping there will be a better climate for trading with Cuba.

In a letter to Mr. Obama this month, a coalition of business, agriculture and trade groups called U.S.A. ENGAGED said it was time for a new Cuba policy and proposed lifting all sanctions and allowing American tourists to travel to Cuba. That coalition which includes the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Retail Federation called for an immediate exemption for the sale of farm machinery and heavy equipment to Cuba.

Cuba has been a buyer of American food for cash since restrictions were eased slightly to allow U.S. companies to sell food without the use of U.S.- based credit. Since 2000, the value of Cuban food purchases has totaled $2.6 billion dollars. U.S. agricultural trade groups and companies feel those purchases would increase sharply with a further easing of diplomatic relations.

To put it bluntly, the embargo has not worked because every other country in the world is trading with Cuba. The government has not changed, life has not changed for the Cuban people and we have lost billions of dollars in trade. I urge the President-elect to lift the embargo and open the door.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.