For the first time in nearly 40 years, the United States is shipping agricultural goods to communist-run Cuba.
Friday, a freighter laden with 24,000 tons of American-grown corn left New Orleans, Louisiana headed for Havana.
The shipment is worth just over $2 million. More will follow, as Cuba is purchasing a total of $30 million worth of American agricultural goods including soybeans, wheat, rice and poultry. The shipments will bolster food stocks ravaged by Hurricane Michele, which devastated Cuba last month.
Joe Hampton, Director of Agriculture for the midwestern U.S. state of Illinois, says the $30 million purchase is only a small portion of Cuba's annual agricultural imports. "This is an opportunity we have looked forward to and worked for," he said. "The Cubans currently are importing between $700 million and $1 billion worth of agricultural and food products each year. That is significant."
Mr. Hampton says American farmers should not be excluded from such a potentially-lucrative market.
Last year, then-President Clinton signed laws relaxing long-standing trade sanctions against Cuba to allow for the sale of food and medicine to the island. But there was a catch: a stipulation that Cuba must pay for all goods in cash.
At the time, Cuban President Fidel Castro dismissed the shift in U.S. policy, saying Cuba would only buy American goods on credit. Cuba's dire needs in the wake of Hurricane Michele appear to have softened that stance.
The food sales to Cuba have drawn little protest from south Florida's staunchly anti-communist Cuban exile community. Most exiles continue to back the overall U.S. economic embargo of the island, but say food and medicine sales should be allowed so long as Cuba pays in cash.