King: Cuba needs ‘biological solution’

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An effort is underway in Congress again to ease restrictions on trade with Cuba to boost U.S. farm exports, but farm-state lawmakers are split over whether it’s a good idea to allow Americans to more freely travel there. Farm groups argue that easing the embargo and promoting U.S. tourism in Cuba will improve America’s image there and undermine the Castro regime.

Rep. Steve King, R-Ia., doesn’t buy it. He said at a House Agriculture Committee hearing Thursday that the United States should wait for the “biological solution,” referring to the demise of the Castros.

“I want to wait out this biological solution,” he said.

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has introduced a bill, H.R. 4645, that would lift transaction restrictions on Cuban purchases of U.S. food and end limits on American travel there. The embargo means U.S. farmers are losing sales to competitors in Brazil and elsewhere, he said. He released letters from Human Rights Watch and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supporting the legislation. Having “more, rather than less, contact” with Cubans will improve their lives, the bishops said.

“We’re just spiting ourselves not to take advantage of this market,” said Iowa Democrat Leonard Boswell, who is co-sponsoring the bill. He went on, “Dammit, it’s time to do this.”

Farm groups say that U.S. food exports to Cuba could double, given Cuban demand for pork, chicken, beans, rice and other commodities. Easing restrictions on transactions would boost Cuban purchases of dried distillers grains, a source of livestock feed that is a byproduct of ethanol production, the National Corn Growers Association said. Last year, Cuba bought $528 million in U.S. agricultural products.

Previous efforts to ease the embargo have met strong resistance, and Republicans on the House committee are split over whether the restrictions on travel should be changed.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said that allowing for U.S. tourism in Cuba would encourage Cubans to view the United States more favorably.

An GOP co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jerry Moran, said the United States has a double standard toward China and Cuba, he and seemed to chide some of his critics back home in Kansas.

“In Kansas, we would not object to selling Boeing aircraft to China, yet we are worrying about selling wheat to Cuba.” Increasing food sales to Cuba takes money from the Cuban government and puts “it in the pockets of American farmers and agribusiness,” he said.

But Republicans such as King are cool at best to the legislation, or at least oppose an easing of travel restrictions.”We have invested a full half a century into waiting out the biological solution in Cuba,” King said.

Rep. Mike Conway, R-Texas, questioned whether the regime could be easily weakened. “There’s not enough misery in the system for them to rear up against the totalitarian government they are living under.” Other Republicans said U.S. tourism dollars would wind up with the government, not the people.

Congress last year rolled back a restriction on exports to Cuba imposed by the Bush administration in 2005, requiring that food shipments be paid for in cash before they could leave a U.S. port. Farm groups say more needs to be done.

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we've got to know one of the govt ministers on our visits - just happened to meet him at a dinner and we get on fabulously with him. great old bloke. but as his says, anyone who thinks that things will change simply because a castro falls off the perch, or words to that effect, is kidding themselves. as he insisted, the govt is not made up of one man.

we can hope for change but if you are waiting for it at the cuban end, it will be slow indeed. i still believe that the best way to change cuba is to dump the ridiculous embargo.

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