Farm Organization Wants End To Economic Embargo Against Cuba

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

( - America's "National Grange," the nation's oldest farm and rural interests organization, wants the U.S. government to lift trade and travel restrictions against Cuba. It passed a resolution to that effect at its national convention on Wednesday.

"Citing the belief that the 40 years of sanctions against Cuba has never proved effective in changing the country's form of government, the National Grange recommended a policy to remove trade, financial, and travel restrictions to Cuba," the Grange said in a statement from its national convention in Portland, Oregon.

The Grange's action comes on the heels of last week's announcement by NAACP President Kweisi Mfume that the Castro government has agreed to buy food directly from America's black farmers - an agreement the NAACP considers a major boost for those farmers.

"President Fidel Castro promised to establish trade links with black farmers and it appears he has kept his word," Mfume told reporters in Havana last week.

Castro, according to Mfume, promised African-American farmers they would have full access to Cuba's $1.5 billion import agricultural market.

Many international analysts had forecast that the Castro government would buy $165 million in U.S. food and farm exports this year, a dramatic change from two years ago when Castro swore his country would never buy a single grain of rice from the U.S. until the economic embargo was lifted entirely.

Earlier this year, Pedro Alvarez, head of Cuba's food import company said the United States, by continuing its economic and commercial blockade against Cuba, is preventing "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. Alvarez said he and other officials have been invited to the United States by congressmen and agribusiness executives, but the Bush administration refuses to let them into the country.

About 176,000 U.S. citizens visited Cuba last year, most of them arriving under one of the exceptions attached to the travel ban. About 20,000 Americans evaded the ban by traveling through a third nation, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which monitors trade between the nations.

President Bush has said repeatedly he has no intention of lifting the economic embargo against Cuba until Castro hold free elections and frees political prisoners.

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