Senators from what are called the farm states have introduced a new bill that would make selling U.S. farm products to Cuba easier. The story is reported in The Naples Daily News (registration required).
10-Republican and 10-Democratic Senators have signed on as co-sponsors and say the bill is necessary. It would allow Cuba to pay for products directly to U.S. banks - payments now have to go through European banks that charge high fees - and it would allow farm representatives to travel to Cuba.
One of 20 supporters of the bill, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said, "It is my hope that this legislation can bring clarity and efficiency to the export of U.S. agricultural goods to Cuba. We should not punish U.S. farmers by limiting access to markets for agricultural and humanitarian goods. Additionally, further U.S. engagement in Cuba through relaxed travel restrictions provides an opportunity to bring about positive change in Cuba."
There's been a ruckus in the Treasury Department over how regulations are interpreted. The farm state senators are afraid Treasury will not allow the farmers to be paid for their goods - Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American congressman from South Florida, says the bill is unnecessary and is an attempt to weaken the embargo.
"It distresses me to see a group of U.S. senators casually dismiss the gravity of the war on terror by encouraging trade with a state sponsor of terrorism just 90 miles off our coast," Diaz-Balart said in an e-mail statement. "I assume next they will encourage trade with other terrorist regimes like North Korea's Kim Jong-Il or Iran's Ayatollah."
Senator Mel Martinez, R-Fla, also says now is not the time to ease restrictions on the bearded bastard - well, no, he didn't call fidel that, but I'm sure he thought it.
This once again points to the mess of the embargo. A.M. Mora y Leon writes frequently that the Bush administration is strengthening the embargo. This bill indicates it's not being strengthened - it's being laughed at.
There are generally two theories about how to defeat fidel. One is to strictly enforce it and cripple castro's government - the other is to lift the embargo and flood Cuba with American tourists who will spend money and give hope and aide to the Cuban people. IMHO, this bill represents the worst kind of compromise. It allows US farmers to trade directly with castro's murdering bureaucracy, thus propping up fidel's machine. Food will go to fidel's favorites, but will it reach the average person? At the same time, the bill does nothing to allow private citizens to give aide directly to dissidents in Cuba, as citizens around the world were recently able to do in Ukraine.
It's a bad idea.