Grain Company Executive 'Talks Turkey' with Cuban Leader

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

( - An executive of a major U.S. grain company said trade between the U.S. and Cuba would benefit the people of both nations.

Larry Cunningham, an executive with Archer Daniels Midland, arrived in Cuba just as his company's food shipment arrived there over the weekend. This was the first delivery of American food and grain to Cuba since the U.S. imposed an economic embargo against the communist island four decades ago.

Before leaving the Cuban capital on Tuesday, Cunningham told Radio Havana he had the "unique opportunity" to "talk turkey" with Cuban Leader Fidel Castro, who joined him at dinner one night.

"We had a wonderful conversation about areas of mutual interest around the world. 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.

Cunningham called the recent food sale to Cuba an important milestone. He said his company has eight more sales and shipments to make to Cuba by the end of February, and he said legislation Congress passed last year could make additional sales to Cuba possible, as long as Cuba can pay for the food without U.S. financing.

"So it's our hope that this is an initial step that will lead to the kind of long-term relationship my company looks for in trading partners," said Cunningham.

"I think a growing majority of Americans want to have free trade with all parts of the world including Cuba," Cunningham added.

According to Radio Havana, Cuban officials consider America's willingness to sell food to Cuba an "exceptional offer" in response to Hurricane Michelle. The storm, which struck in early November, caused several deaths and millions of dollars in damage.

The Castro government is disappointed that the U.S. is refusing to end the economic embargo.

The sale of food to Cuba, regardless of the circumstances, continues to generate opposition in the United States, especially within the Cuban exile community.

The Cuban American National Foundation said the food sales will only bolster the Castro government.

"Fidel Castro stands to gain everything in exchange for absolutely nothing because he is not creditworthy from a strictly economic point of view," said Mariela Ferretti, a spokesperson for the Cuban American National Foundation. "On top of that, he has a morally bankrupt regime that the United States should not be doing business with."

President Bush remains opposed to lifting the economic embargo against Cuba.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday, "The president's position remains unchanged on maintaining the sanctions against Cuba until it is free and until democratic elections are held."

Fleischer said the recent U.S. food shipment to Cuba "was an action taken privately and in accordance with the law that was passed by Congress previously."

The law says U.S. companies and banks may not lend Cuba the money it needs to buy U.S. food.