Blockade detrimental to the U
Blockade detrimental to
By Carlos Iglesias
The first U.S.-Cuba meeting held in 2004 resulted in nine
letters of intent. A similar successful meeting was held in 2003 which also
resulted in a wide attendance as well as numerous contracts.
This year 405 executives from 172 corporations and
associations, as well as politicians from 30 states and Puerto Rico attended the
meeting. Some of the attending companies signed agreements for the amount of
$106.4 million dollars. They came from the most populous state (California, 36
million inhabitants) to the one with the smallest population (Vermont, 660,000).
The meeting contributed to a $718 million figure in sales
that have resulted since December 2001, when limited trade was reinitiated
between the U.S. and Cuba. Resulting contracts were for grain, poultry, flour,
fruit, powdered milk, paper, eggs, lumber and other products.
Pedro Álvarez, ALIMPORT chair, the Cuban food import agency
and host of the meeting, said that 95.27% of the products bought will be for the
Island’s susbsidy of household articles. He also announced that Cuba will resume
buying chicken from states free of aviary influenza.
He added that cattle sales will resume when Cuban
veterinaries receive their visas from the State Department in order to supervise
the sales. “If the herds are free of mad cow disease, there will be no
problem,” he added.
Philadelphia became the 18th port to trade with Cuba and
now is the only one in the Northeast to hold that status. Pennsylvania Secretary
of State Dennis Wolf declared that the embargo is senseless and that the state
is in favor of trading with Cuba.
More evidence of the encounter’s success was James Cason’s,
head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, bitter reaction who spoke of
“Cuban manipulation” of these sales for political lobbying.
But his remarks were ignored by the attendants. Mr. Cason
was echoing a hostile administration that in 2003 blocked an agribusiness
exhibition by U.S. producers that was to be held in Havana and has increased
repression for traveling to Cuba. But in spite of the blockade, Cuba became our
northern neighbor’s 35th ranked agricultural partner, and the United
States became the island’s 7th ranked supplier.
Discussed during the meeting were the possibilities of
investments by U.S. investors. Francisco Soberón, president of the Central Bank
of Cuba, reviewed the potential for a future when trading restrictions are
finally lifted. Among areas discussed as possible investments mentioned by
Minister Soberón included:
- Access to the largest nickel reserves in the world, 90
miles from U.S. territory.
- Opportunities in oil exploration.
- Possibility of repairs in Cuban shipyards, the most
competitive in the Caribbean.
- Capacity for hundreds of daily flights to the island and
- A safe tourist destination for leisure, as well as for
medical, educational, ecological and cultural reasons.
- Multimillion Cuban imports of products, equipment and
- Exchanges in areas such as music, dance, fine arts and
other cultural manifestations.
- The possibility of $21 billion in transactions of goods
and services during the first five years.
Minister Soberón said that the contracts recently signed
are “only a tiny sample” of the possibility between the two countries.
“Paradoxically, a blockade is more detrimental to the nation that puts it in
force,” he stressed. “(Trading) without a blockade, without ideological
fundamentalism, would be extraordinarily beneficial for both countries,” he
Nevertheless, the island “is not placing all its hopes on
the end of the blockade” and has plans for other contingencies.
Soberón thanked the attendants for not believing in the
propaganda that presents Cuba as an unfulfilling and untrustworthy partner.
Cuban banks, he added, have paid right on time, in spite of all obstacles.
Participants during the meeting unanimously asked for the
end to the blockade. María Conchita Méndez, from Alabama, said that “it’s time
to open all doors.” Representatives Linda and Loretta Sánchez (D., California),
advocated for a “substantial advance” in trade.
Iowa Senator David Millar asked for small gestures in order
to foster normalization, although “Washington (should) take the first step”.
Brian Dubie, Vermont’s deputy governor, said he is in favor of free trade among
countries as a road to peace.
Unsatisfied agribusiness executives, led by Gregory Webb
from Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in Illinois, demanded a total “green light...
We are on the lookout for investment opportunities here and for uninhibited
trade between both countries,” said ADM’s number 2 man.
Investments and normal trade are taboo due to the
blockade’s regulations. The present transactions are only accomplished by way of
cash sales, in other words pre-paid, without financing and with several other
Americans are still lobbying Congress led by the Cuba
Working Group, comprised of senators and representatives from both parties, who
have gained ground against restrictions, although the White House has placed
obstacles along the way.
Representative “Butch” Otter (R., Idaho) acknowledged the
importance of the sales, but stated that it’s more important to give birth to a
new mentality on relations.
More favorable areas
Pedro Álvarez described a future era, after the blockade,
where “Cuba would happily welcome U.S. tourists.” He also said that the island
does not limit U.S. participation in investments for on-shore and off-shore oil
prospecting, where a great possibility of success exists.
In spite of the confrontation, Cuba is promoting relations
in biotechnology, nickel, telecommunications, power generation and food
production, port facilities rehabilitation and other areas.
Carlos Borroto, vice-director of the Center for Genetic
Engineering and Biotechnology, said the American blockade excludes people from
the benefits of Cuban biotechnology.
He said that biotechnology was developed in Cuba to advance
quality of life among Cubans, but that there came a time when marketing of the
products became necessary. Cuba began exporting three products in 1981-1990 and
reached 38 in 2001. He said that there are currently negotiations with the U.S.
for a cooperated production of the meningitis B vaccine, and that they are
waiting for the license by the Office of Foreign Assets Control for CancerVax, a
proven treatment for neck cancer.
Another opportunity discussed was tourism. If travel
restrictions were raised, one million Americans would visit the island in the
first year, resulting in revenues and jobs for both countries. Cuban hotels
could service three million tourists, but they can’t currently handle a boom of
six million tourists for 2010. So there exists opportunities for investment in
For his part, Juan Fleites, vice-president of Cubapetróleo
(CUPET), stated that oil production is centered particularly on wells along
Cuba’s northern shore, between Havana and Cárdenas, 100 miles to the East.
Average production is 80,000 barrels a day, half of the national consumption,
and all dedicated for power generation.
But Cuba’s greatest hopes lie in the 16 contracts for
exploitation at risk – along with Sherritt International (Canada) and Repsol-YPF
(Spain) – 10 of them in the 50 blocks of the Cuban Exclusive Economic Zone in
the Gulf of Mexico. In May, Repsol-YPF will begin to drill that area and
positive results could become a magnet for other potential partners.
Each block has an average of 1,250 square miles and the
Cuban zone has an area of 70,000 miles. Pedro Álvarez said that it was “amazing”
that U.S. companies were “ceding ground to their competitors” in that sector.
There is also a potential in nickel-cobalt mining (the
world’s largest reserves, with a yearly output of 71,600 tons a short distance
away from the U.S.). Nickel is used for the manufacture of stainless steel and
other alloys for construction and several industries. Nickel oxide and cobalt
oxide are used for manufacturing lithium batteries.
Participants got the opportunity to meet and speak with
President Fidel Castro in private. According to Rep. Otter, in a relaxed
conversation that touched several varied subject, President Castro abounded on
the nutritional value of certain foods.
The world’s overpopulation was also discussed with
documented calculations and warnings on the need of being prepared to face the
issue. The matter could have an impact on food production in order to satisfy
the needs of such population growth, something that according to Mr. Otter, was
of great concern to President Castro.
The round of negotiations helped establish a bond between
participants. Shortly before ending the meeting, Pedro Álvarez announced the
arrival to Cuba of delegations from several states in order to forge ahead.
Carlos Iglesias, a Cuban journalist, is the correspondent in Cuba for the