Cuba: Too long an island unto itself?
Eighteen farmers flew to Havana, Cuba, last week as part of Illinois Farm Bureau's Cuba Market Study. FarmWeekNow's Martin Ross accompanied the group and provided the photos and audio for this story.
Published: Jul 6, 2012
They call it “The Crisis” -- the historic moment when walls and ideologies fell across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and when Cuba, politically isolated from its powerful neighbor, the U.S., was forced to sink or swim.
Over the roughly 20 years since Soviet supplies and support stopped flowing onto the island, Cuba has managed to keep its head above water through partial “reallocation” of state-run lands, a push to regain its pre-1960 tourist base, and herculean efforts to feed its millions through imports and “urban agriculture”.
During Illinois Farm Bureau’s Cuba market study tour, Illinois farmers met with officials, business leaders, and co-ops working to meet the socialist nation’s food needs. While the U.S. has been allowed to sell ag goods to Cuba for nearly a dozen years, it is under strict cash sale requirements and a one-way, U.S.-to-Cuba trade policy.
IFB National Policy Director Adam Nielsen noted hopes that study tour participants can address the value of U.S.-Cuba relations in Washington and recruit congressional “champions” to fight decades-old Cuban trade and travel sanctions.
“This trip will refocus and re-energize us for this goal,” Nielsen assured Cuban officials.
Cuba today imports about 80 percent of its food supply, but Cuban ag ministry international relations specialist Juan Jose Leon reports “we’re working very hard in (domestic food) import substitution.”
“And as you are aware, we import a lot from the U.S.,” he stressed.
Leon nonetheless blasted what he deemed the 50-year-plus U.S. “blockade” of Cuban goods, arguing U.S. purchase of “good Cuban cigars” and other products would help President Raul Castro fund added food purchases.
Plus, he noted “very poor” Cuban corn yields, a lagging dairy-cattle herd formerly fed with plentiful Soviet grain, and heavy fruit and vegetable losses due to “our inability to process (produce).”
Editor's note: We have audio comments from three of the tour participants on their observations about Cuba. You will hear first from former IDOA director Tom Jennings, followed by Jamie Walter and Keith Mussman.
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