U.S. Food Shipments Arrive In Cuba

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

(CNSNews.com) - Two freighters carrying shipments of food from the United States arrived in Havana Sunday, marking first time in close to 40 years that an American commercial food shipment was sent to the communist nation.

Reports said the two ships-the M.V. Express, carrying around 500 tons of frozen chicken, and the Mexican-owned Ikan Mazatlan, carrying 24,000 tons of U.S. corn-arrived with little fanfare, with only a handful of new reporters and Cuban government officials witnessing the event.

The U.S. food shipments were sent to Cuba in light of the Hurricane Michelle, which tore through Cuba in early November. Last year, Congress passed a law that allows American companies to sell products to Cuba on a humanitarian basis, despite the almost 40-year-old embargo against it.

Other food shipments are expected in the next few weeks, carrying wheat, soybeans, rice and corn.

Despite the humanitarian aid, President Bush said the economic embargo will remain in place until Cuban leader Fidel Castro improves human rights and releases political prisoners.

The shipments sparked heated reaction from the Cuban-American community because many who believe the food will only bolster the communist 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."

The food shipment comes in the midst of a heated debate in the U.S. Senate, where Senators are debating language in a farm bill that would allow Cuba to buy U.S. agricultural products on credit, instead of paying for it in cash, as current federal law now requires. Cuba strongly opposes the "cash-only" purchase provision.

A Senate vote on that bill is expected on Tuesday.