Group Sees Cuban Economic Embargo's End in Sight

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

( - An American group that favors relaxing the United States economic embargo against Cuba is optimistic that Congress will take note of new figures showing that American farmers are losing around $1 billion annually because of the sanctions.

The figures were released Monday by the Cuban Policy Foundation, headed by former U.S. ambassador Sally Grooms Cowal, who recently traveled to Cuba and met with several Castro government officials.

Cowal based her statement on a new report by two American economists that shows the U.S. economy is losing a potential $1.24 billion annually in agricultural exports because of the Cuban embargo.

"If the embargo [was] lifted, the average American farmer would feel a difference in his or her life within two or three years," says the report's co-author, C. Parr Rosson, professor of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University.

The foundation reported that two former agriculture secretaries -- the John Block from the Reagan administration and Dan Glickman from the Clinton administration -- wrote President Bush requesting a policy change.

"Current U.S. policy has not given relief to the Cuban people. And now it's just as clear: Our policy is also harming American farmers during these tough economic times," both men said in their letter. "Mr. President, the sooner we lift this failed embargo, the better."

President Bush has repeatedly said he will not lift the Cuban embargo until Castro holds free elections and releases political prisoners. The State Department backed the policy Monday.

The State Department isn't predicting any friendlier relations between the United States and Cuba in the near future.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday that relations will not improve until Cuba has free elections, releases political prisoners and repeals laws that permit the imprisonment of Cubans who criticize the government.

"It's not a question of our relationship," Boucher said. "It's a question of the Cuban government's continue denial of basic human rights."

But Cowal told BBC Radio Tuesday that she remains optimistic that Congress will ease the embargo.

"I'm fairly optimistic that they (the new figures) will influence Congress," Cowal said. "I think we will have a couple of positive votes in the Congress this year, certainly one toward being allowed to provide private financing credits for the sale of agriculture commodities that was prohibited in the last legislation, specifically with respect to Cuba.

"And that means our potential is very limited because all commodities deals are done based on credit," she said.

However, Dennis Hays, executive director of the Cuban-American National Foundation, a group, which consistently speaks out against the Castro government, doesn't agree with Cowal's stance toward the embargo.

"The problem is that Ambassador Cowal and others always talk about what the United States is going to do and never about what Cuba needs to do," Hays told recently. "Were any political prisoners freed? Were these 'highly trained' Cubans given free access to the Internet? Or to outside sources of information? Were the Cuban farmers allowed to determine what crops to plant and who they want to sell them to?

"The answer regrettably in all of these cases is 'no,'" Hayes said. "Nothing has changed and so again it's a question of people wanting to give something for nothing."

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