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Senator Spars with Powell on Cuban's Visa - 2002-04-30

A U.S. senator Tuesday lashed out at Secretary of State Colin Powell over his agency's decision to revoke a visa for a Cuban trade official who had planned to buy wheat for the communist-led island.

Senator Byron Dorgan (Dem.-N.D.) had invited Pedro Alvarez, the head of Cuba's state-run food importing agency, to visit the United States in an effort to find new markets for American farmers.

The U.S. interests section in Havana initially approved a visa for Mr. Alvarez, but then revoked it.

An angry Senator Dorgan demanded an explanation from Secretary Powell, who was testifying before a Senate Appropriations panel.

"Can you understand the angst of farmers out there," asked Senator Dorgan, "whose prices have collapsed and we are trying to sell grain around the world, and President Bush saying we need to encourage the selling of grain around the world, and then they discover that someone wants to come here and buy some food and we revoke the visa?"

Last November, the United States eased a four decades-old embargo against Cuba to allow food and medicine sales for humanitarian reasons after a hurricane devasted the island. Senator Dorgan underscored the point, telling Secretary Powell, "we ought never use food as a weapon, ever. Congress has already spoken to that, and I'm a little miffed about all of this."

Secretary Powell said the visa had been erroneously issued. He suggested Mr. Alvarez is being barred from visiting the United States because he spent a previous visit here lobbying to lift the embargo against Cuba. "The visa should never have been issued because Mr. Alvarez's activities last time he was here were inconsistent with the terms of his visa and U.S. policy," said Secretary Powell.

Senator Dorgan says Cuba has bought some $75 million worth of U.S. farm products since the easing of the embargo last year, and is interested in buying more.