Castro Says US Food Purchases 'Not a Political Move'

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

( - Cuban leader Fidel Castro is dismissing suggestions that Cuba's recent purchase of American food is a political move, intended to support those in the United States who are lobbying Congress to lift the economic embargo against Cuba.

According to Radio Havana, Castro denied that the food purchase was a "political move on Cuba's part." He described it as "a polite response to a friendly offer of aid" from the United States government in the wake of a devastating hurricane.

Castro also said future food purchases from the United States depend entirely on the attitude of the Bush administration.

Castro has long complained about the economic embargo the U.S. imposed on Cuba following the 1959 revolution that brought Castro to power. The delivery of American food to Cuba last weekend marked the first such transaction in over four decades.

Several American companies sold food to Cuba as part of a goodwill gesture, to help the communist nation recover from the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Michelle in November. The food shipment arrived in Havana last weekend.

Radio Havana quoted Castro as saying that the estimated $35 million purchase represents only 4 percent of the foodstuffs that Cuba acquires, mostly from other countries.

Congress passed a law last year allowing food and medicine sales to Cuba. But there's a catch. Cuba has to pay cash for those purchases, and it cannot obtain the financing it needs from U.S. sources. That essentially prevents Castro from buying U.S. food in most cases.

Castro left the door open to buying additional U.S. food shipments, saying, "Cuba will always politely respond to a friendly gesture, and will not respond crassly to a gross gesture."

Castro added that the recent food purchase has not created any illusions in Cuba that the U.S. economic embargo will be lifted. And certainly the Bush administration has given him no reason to think that the embargo will end.

President Bush, according to White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, remains opposed to lifting the economic embargo against the communist run nation.

"The president's solution remains unchanged on maintaining the sanctions against Cuba until it is free and until democratic elections are held," said Fleischer.

Earlier this week, Larry Cunningham, an executive with Archer Daniels Midland said he had the opportunity to "talk turkey" with Castro about future food purchases.

"The people of Cuba have a need to import food and for the foreseeable future will need to supplement their food supply with imports," Cunningham told Radio Havana.

"So, it's a winning opportunity for both the Cuban people who need the food and for the American people who need the business," said Cunningham, who is among those supporting U.S. food sales to Cuba.