- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2003

Thirty-six of the 46 companies awarded contracts earlier this month to do business with Cuba are from the United States, despite the Bush administration’s hard line against Fidel Castro’s dictatorship.

The companies, a who’s who of agribusiness giants, struck deals to ship goods ranging from chewing gum to chickens.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba is a political argument rather than an economic penalty, said Daniel Fernandez, president of U.S.-Cuba Trade Consultants.

“There are right now [hundreds of thousands] of reasons just in Florida for some politicians to oppose trade with Cuba,” Mr. Fernandez said. He was referring to the estimated 833,000 Cubans living in Florida, a crucial state for President Bush’s re-election hopes in 2004.

“The president is very sensitive about these relations with the Cuban electorate, and that’s the only reason these embargoes remain in place,” Mr. Fernandez said.

Under a dictate of the administration, U.S. visitors are allowed to spend no more than $64 a day in Cuba. Mr. Fernandez said that as he boarded a plane to attend the Havana International Fair, Treasury agents inspected his luggage to ensure he was carrying no more than the limit.

Treasury officials declined to comment.

“But it doesn’t matter,” Mr. Fernandez said. “There are more and more businesses ready to trade with Cuba.”

U.S. companies finalized the largest share of sales contracts signed at the Havana International Fair, the Cuban government said.

Cuba has bought $304.6 million in American products since 2000, when President Clinton signed legislation legalizing the direct sale of farm products to the dictatorship. It was an amendment of the 42-year-old trade embargo.

Sales to Cuba are made only on a cash basis, which provides an incentive to businesses.

Among the deals assembled at the international fair were for $18.6 million worth of soybeans, soy oil, soy flour and corn from Archer Daniels Midland; $2.7 million worth of chicken products from Tyson Foods; $1.35 million worth of chicken products from AJC International of Atlanta; and $163,000 for the sale of Chiclets by U.S.-based gum company Adams.

“We didn’t have a booth there, but we did have a representative attend,” said Tyson’s spokesman Ed Nicholson. Arkansas-based Tyson’s, one of the nation’s largest producers of poultry and pork, has been doing business with Cuba since 2002.

He said the sales come under the auspices of U.S. law, have no political implications and bow to no political pressure from either Cuba or the United States.

“We know that there are hungry people there and they have to eat,” Mr. Nicholson said.

In October, President Bush announced a policy intended to curb American travel to Cuba, increase the number of Cuban immigrants and prepare for the day when Mr. Castro is no longer in power.

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