Cuba Buying More Food From The United States

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

( - Cuba will buy apples and dried peas from various companies located in the state of Washington, the U.S.-Cuba Economic Trade Council said Monday.

The council said in its weekly newsletter that Alimport, the Castro government's official agency for buying food for the communist-run nation, will buy around 1,000 metric tons of apples and 20,000 metric tons of dried peas with a combined market value of $4.5 million U.S. dollars.

The council said Alimport confirmed the purchases in a fax to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) who visited Cuba last January. Cantwell is a member of the Senate Committee on Small Business.

Cantwell, according to her office, received the purchase confirmation in a letter from Pedro Alvarez Borrego, director of Alimport.

She said the total sale is expected to be about $4.5 billion and Cuba will pay cash for it. The pea sale is expected to be completed in May while the apple sale will be completed in either or May or June, Cantwell said.

Cantwell also said she will continue to work on the sale by assisting the shippers of the Washington state products in received the required export licenses from the Treasury Department.

Bill Brookreson, the acting director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture was pleased with the purchase.

"We believe Cuba has great potential as a market for Washington's agricultural products," said Brookreson in a statement.

Not so pleased was the Center for A Free Cuba, an anti-Castro Cuban exile group.

"I hope they (the purchases) are cash and carry. If the idea is to try to provide Castro credits or have the American taxpayer pick up the tab, I think we are going to have a real problem," said Center Executive Director Frank Calzon in an interview with .

"Furthermore, my hunch is that the Cuban people will never see those apples. Those apples will go to the tourists. Cubans don't even get mangoes and onions and tropical fruits because there is a lot of rationing involved due to the abysmal state of Cuba's agriculture, which is government controlled," said Calzon.

Calzon said American companies shouldn't sell goods to Castro on credit. "Castro will get his stuff for nothing and the American taxpayer will pick up the tab. I don't see why the U.S. taxpayer should be encumbered with picking up the tab for Castro," said Calzon.

While U.S. law permits food and medicine sales to Cuba, they must be paid for in cash rather than financed, something that irritates cash-strapped Cuban officials.

Last month, Cuban Leader Fidel Castro told a visiting American delegation that he planned to purchase a second shipment of food from the United States.

Castro told the delegation he wanted to buy food and agricultural products, as long as the United States government remained flexible on granting licenses to American firms that want to do business with the Castro government.

Last December, Cuba bought $35 million dollars' worth of wheat, soybeans, rice and corn from the U.S. after its own crops were devastated by Hurricane Michelle.

At the time, Castro government officials said there would be no more food purchases from the U.S. unless the Bush administration relaxed the longstanding U.S. trade embargo.

President Bush has repeatedly said he will not lift the economic embargo against Cuba until Castro frees all political prisoners and allows free and fair elections.

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