Castro Government Wants To Buy More Food from US

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

( - The director of Cuba's food import company, Alimport, said Wednesday that the Castro government is negotiating with leading U.S. food companies in hopes of purchasing more food items from the United States in the future, according to Radio Havana.

However, Pedro Alvarez told a Havana press conference that the United States, in continuing its "economic and commercial blockade" against Cuba, is preventing what he called "multi-million dollar trade" between the two nations. He noted that Cuba has purchased over $100 million in food and agricultural products from the U.S. since last December, after Hurricane Michelle devastated the country.

Alvarez accused the Bush administration of causing problems for Cuba on future food purchases by delaying travel licenses and visas for Castro government officials who want to come to the U.S. to discuss food sales. He said he and other officials have been invited to the United States by congressmen and agribusiness executives, but the Bush administration keeps saying no.

He is also angry that Cuba may purchase U.S. food on a "cash-only" basis. U.S. law prevents the Bush administration from extending credit to Cuba.

Earlier this month, Radlo Foods, a Watertown, Mass.-based food company, announced it would be the first American egg producer and exporter to do business with Cuba in over 40 years.

Late last year, representatives from Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Riceland Food and ConAgra signed agreements with Alimport to provide wheat, soybeans and rice.

Wednesday's Radio Havana broadcast made no mention of any connection between this week's visit of former President Carter to Cuba and Alvarez's remarks.

Carter called for an end to the economic blockade against Cuba during a speech in Havana this week.

But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday President Bush has no intention of lifting the economic embargo against the communist run nation.

"The president very strongly believes that the trade embargo with Cuba is a very important ongoing part of America's policy, because trade with Cuba only benefits the repressive government of Cuba; it does not get into the hands of the people. That's been the experience of the nations that have traded with Cuba," said Fleischer.

"And trade with Cuba, unlike trade with almost any other nation in world, does not help the people of Cuba. And that's the heart of the problem with the trade issue with Cuba," he said.

When asked if the administration plans to further tighten the embargo against Cuba, Fleischer said, "Well, the president will give a speech on Monday, where he will talk about the importance of freedom and democracy in Cuba, and the president will address that himself," Fleischer said.

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