Hagstrom Report: Ag leaders back Heitkamp-Boozman Cuba amendment in farm bill

A bipartisan group of more than 60 agriculture associations, businesses and elected officials across 17 states urged the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate agriculture committees to keep in the farm bill conference report an amendment sponsored by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., that would remove restrictions on private financing for U.S. food exports and allow farm groups to use federal market promotion funds in Cuba.

U.S. sales of agricultural products to Cuba are limited to cash transactions, causing Cuba to primarily turn to Europe, Latin America and Asia for nearly $2 billion per year in agricultural imports, the agriculture leaders said. They noted that Cuba imports roughly 80 percent of its food and has a population of 11 million, plus an influx of 3 to 5 million tourists annually.

"Your support in removing outdated financing barriers on agricultural sales to our island neighbor could significantly strengthen an industry that supports 17 million jobs across the United States, while providing the Cuban people with high-quality, American-grown food," the letter said. "Hardworking U.S. farmers can and should be Cuba's No. 1 supplier of commodities like rice, poultry, dairy, soy, wheat and corn."

A news release from Engage Cuba also included statements from Heitkamp and Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., and Roger Marshall, R-Kan., in support of the Heitkamp-Boozman amendment.

"The United States has just 5 percent of the world's population, which means 95 percent of consumers live outside our borders. If we aren't constantly working to open markets and reach new customers, American farmers and workers won't be competitive on the global stage. That's why it's so important for U.S. farmers and ranchers to gain access to markets like Cuba, where there is demand for American agricultural products," Heitkamp said.

"My bipartisan amendment would give USDA the ability to build reliable trade partnerships between U.S. producers and Cuban buyers, strengthening our ag economy and finally removing outdated barriers to selling our products to consumers in a nation that sits just off our coastline. It would also help boost North Dakota's farmers during a time of serious uncertainty from the administration's trade policies," she said.

"Our current Cuba trade financing laws deny our farmers access to a market valued at over $1 billion per year. I appreciate Sen. Boozman and Sen. Heitkamp's work to include Cuba agricultural trade language in the Senate version of the farm bill, and I look forward to working to replace the current cash-for-crop requirements," said Crawford, lead sponsor of the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act in the House and a participant in the farm bill conference committee.

"Today, farm country is filled with uncertainty. Passing a farm bill is paramount, but in doing so we must look ahead and support mutually beneficial economic opportunities, like those in Cuba," Marshall said. "While we are renegotiating our trade deals, we have a $2 billion market untouched right under our nose."

"Our farmers don't want handouts. They know if they can compete with the rest of the world, they can win," said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba. "There is no reason why the Cuban people shouldn't be eating American rice and dairy instead of importing it from Vietnam and New Zealand."

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OnCuba: Díaz-Canel se reuniría con sector agrícola de EEUU

El presidente de Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, estaría interesado en reunirse con los representantes de agricultura de Estados Unidos para finales de este mes, de acuerdo con un comunicado de prensa emitido por email a nombre de la Coalición de Agricultura de los Estados Unidos por Cuba (USACC, por sus siglas en inglés).

La reunión podría ocurrir más tarde este mes, mientras Díaz-Canel esté de visita en el país norteamericano para participar en la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas.

Paul D. Johnson, presidente de USACC, mencionó en el comunicado que “esta reunión representa una oportunidad para conocer al nuevo presidente y también demostrar la importancia que la agricultura mantiene para hacer avanzar las relaciones comerciales.”

Johnson explica que en el Memorando Presidencial del año pasado sobre Cuba se identificó explícitamente el comercio agrícola, permitido por la ley en TSRA (Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act), como de interés nacional de EE.UU.

“La Administración Trump ha continuado el diálogo con Cuba, incluidas las reuniones del USDA con el Ministerio de Agricultura de Cuba. Cualquier acción sobre sanciones en Cuba tendría que reiniciar un proceso político que muchos en la Administración prefieren mantener en el espejo retrovisor”, dijo.

Añadió que en el corto plazo esperan que la Administración de Trump quizás formule una declaración política sobre Cuba en el contexto de las campañas de los republicanos en Florida este otoño.

“Para nuestros propósitos, con o sin nuevo nombramiento de personal, es tan importante como siempre hablar para proteger el lugar de la agricultura en la política hacia Cuba y para recordarle a la Administración que Cuba es una oportunidad para expandir las exportaciones de los EE.UU.”, dijo.

La USACC es además sponsor de la Conferencia de Negocios de Agricultura Cuba-U.S. que ocurrirá en La Habana del 8 al 10 de noviembre próximo. A la conferencia tienen previsto asistir varios representantes estadounidenses de primer nivel como el Senador Moran y el congresista Crawford, entre otros, así como ministros cubanos, cooperativistas y agricultores.

Una enmienda ahorraría 690 millones de dólares

Otras acciones de la organización incluyen el apoyo a una enmienda que permita desbloquear fondos privados para el Programa de Acceso al Mercado y el Programa de Desarrollo del Mercado Extranjero, conocidos por sus sigas en inglés como MAP-FMD. De lograrse, esta enmienda sería la primera legislación aprobada desde 2001 en referencia al mercado cubano, de acuerdo con el comunicado de prensa emitido por la USACC.

“Es importante para nosotros ser coherentes en nuestra política comercial”, dijo Jhonson.

Mientras tanto, el grupo bipartidista Engage Cuba envió a la prensa una declaración firmada por más de 60 asociaciones de agricultura, negocios y políticos que apoyan la enmienda en 17 estados del país.

Específicamente el grupo pide a través de una carta a los líderes del Comité de Agricultura de la Cámara de Representantes de Estados Unidos y el Comité de Agricultura, Nutrición y Silvicultura del Senado “incluir una provisión en el proyecto de ley agrícola de 2018 que salvaría al presupuesto del Congreso unos 690 millones de dólares en el plazo de 10 años”, explica el comunicado.

La enmienda es una adaptación de la llamada Acta de Exportaciones Agrícolas a Cuba, y expandiría el comercio agrícola con la isla al eliminar las restricciones del sector privado para financiar las exportaciones de comida estadounidense.

La carta urge también a los abogados a preservar una enmienda del Senado que les permite a los granjeros usar fondos federales para la promoción del mercado agrícola en Cuba.

Actualmente las ventas de productos agrícolas con Cuba se limitan a transacciones monetarias en efectivo, por lo que Cuba importa más desde países en Europa, Latinoamérica y Asia con un valor de dos mil millones de dólares anuales, señaló Engage Cuba.

La Senadora demócrata por North Dakota, Heidi Heitkamp, dijo que la enmienda bipartidista “podría dar al Departamento de Agricultura de los Estados Unidos la habilidad de construir alianzas comerciales confiables entre los productores estadounidenses y los compradores cubanos, fortalecer nuestra economía agrícola y finalmente eliminar las barreras obsoletas para vender nuestros productos a los consumidores en una nación que se encuentra frente a nuestra costa. También ayudaría a impulsar a los agricultores de Dakota del Norte durante una época de gran incertidumbre derivada de las políticas comerciales de la administración”.

Durante varios años, los agricultores estadounidenses han tratado de romper las barreras del embargo y fomentar el acercamiento comercial con Cuba. En 2015, el Secretario de Agricultura de los Estados Unidos visitó la isla, durante la administración de Obama lo que causó oposición en varios políticos de la Florida, incluyendo el gobernador.

Para convertirse en ley, ambas disposiciones deben ser aprobadas por el comité de conferencia bicameral, que se reunió oficialmente por primera vez hoy miércoles.

Prensa Latina: U.S. Bipartisan Group Calls for Agricultural Trade with Cuba

A bipartisan group of more than 60 agriculture associations, companies and elected officials from 17 U.S. states today urged members of Congress to adopt an amendment that would expand agricultural trade with Cuba.

According to the Engage Cuba coalition, these actors called on the leadership of the Agriculture committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate to include in the 2018 Farm Bill a provision that according to the Congressional Budget Office would save 690 million dollars in 10 years.

The suggested amendment, adapted from the Agricultural Exports Law of Cuba, would expand this type of exchange by eliminating restrictions on private financing for exports of American food to the neighboring country.

In a letter, the group also asked lawmakers to preserve a Senate provision that will allow U.S. farmers to use federal market promotion funds in the Caribbean island.

As noted in the letter, net agricultural income in this country during 2018 reached a minimum of 12 years, falling more than during the Great Recession of the past decade.

This economic distortion is felt by everyone in the industry, particularly the thousands of small family farms in the heart of the United States. Given the decline of the market by 6.7 percent this year, we must highlight the importance of trade and open new international markets, they pointed out.

According to the text, the U.S. agriculture groups seek participation in a market of 11 million inhabitants, which receives an annual influx of three to five million tourists.

The letter said to members of the Capitol that their support to remove obsolete financial barriers in agricultural sales to the neighboring country could significantly strengthen an industry that backs 17 million jobs throughout the United States.

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El Nuevo Herald: Ahora se sospecha que Rusia está detrás de los ataques en Cuba. ¿Cómo responderá EEUU?

Cuba se encuentra de nuevo en el medio de lo que podría ser otra confrontación entre Estados Unidos y Rusia, luego de que este país fuera nombrado como el principal sospechoso de perpetrar los misteriosos ataques contra el personal de la embajada de EEUU en La Habana.

Según un reporte de NBC, que cita a varios funcionarios estadounidenses que no fueron identificados, las agencias federales que investigan los incidentes han interceptado comunicaciones de inteligencia que apuntan a que Rusia está detrás de los ataques, aunque la evidencia aún no es concluyente como para acusar formalmente a ese país.

Si se confirma que Rusia es el principal culpable, “esto no tendría precedente, nunca ha pasado”, dijo Frank Mora, quien fue subsecretario de defensa para América Latina y ahora dirige un centro de estudios lationamericanos en la Florida International University (FIU). “Rusia ha intervenido en las elecciones en Estados Unidos y ha estado detrás de los ataques a ex espías rusos en Inglaterra pero provocar lesiones serias a funcionarios de Estados Unidos, eso es mucho más complicado y Estados Unidos tiene que reaccionar de alguna manera”.

El reporte asegura que los militares estadounidenses están trabajando para replicar el arma o las armas empleadas para dañar hasta ahora a 26 empleados del Departamento de Estado, la CIA y otras agencias federales, así como a algunos de sus familiares que estaban en La Habana. Los afectados han presentado síntomas como pérdida de audición, problemas cognitivos y algunos, trauma cerebral.

Según declaraciones de un equipo de médicos que investigó el caso a petición del gobierno, es posible que los perpetradores hubieran empleado una “neuro-arma” de energía dirigida, que podría dañar el cerebro al provocar un efecto de “cavitación” a través de ondas como las acústicas, electromagnéticas o microondas. La Fuerza Aérea de EEUU y su programa de investigación de la energía dirigida participa en la investigación de los ataques.

La portavoz del Departamento de Estado, Heather Nauert, advirtió a los reporteros que tomaran el informe de NBC con “escepticismo”, durante una conferencia de prensa el martes. “Nuestra posición no ha cambiado. No hemos asignado ninguna culpa y seguimos investigando esto “.

Mora y otros expertos consultados por el Nuevo Herald coinciden en que de confirmarse la responsabilidad de Rusia, Estados Unidos podría imponer más sanciones a ese país. “Habría presión para que el presidente Donald Trump o la Casa Blanca emitiera un comunicado”, dijo Chris Sabatini, experto en América Latina y profesor de Columbia University.

Pero al mismo tiempo, Cuba estaría en una situación compleja y podría pagar las consecuencias de los ataques que ocurrieron en La Habana.

“Me temo que Cuba sería más como un chivo expiatorio en lugar de Rusia, a pesar de que sus huellas están en todas partes ”, opinó Sabatini. “Es el actor más débil y esa ha sido la política de Estados Unidos bajo la administración de Trump”.

Trump ha endurecido la retórica contra Cuba e impuesto algunas restricciones a los viajes y a las limitadas inversiones de los estadounidenses en la isla. Una Casa Blanca que posiblemente nombrará a Mauricio Claver-Carone— un excabildero de línea dura hacia Cuba —como asesor para América Latina, podría usar el tema de los ataques para revertir algunas de las medidas tomadas por el ex presidente Barack Obama y reincorporar a Cuba en la lista de países que patrocinan el terrorismo, opinó Sabatini.

El senador republicano por la Florida Marco Rubio, cercano a Claver-Carone y uno de los artífices de la política de Trump hacia Cuba, ha declarado querer ir más allá de las medidas tomadas y podría usar “oportunidad para apretar más e imponer sanciones o presiones al gobierno cubano”, dijo Mora.

La oficina de Rubio dijo que el senador no podía comentar sobre el reporte de NBC. Pero en declaraciones a el Nuevo Herald la semana pasada, el senador de origen cubano dijo que “en última instancia, es el régimen cubano el que debe responder porque, o ellos llevaron a cabo estos ataques o ellos saben quién lo hizo y no nos lo han dicho”. 

Hasta ahora, el gobierno de Estados Unidos retiró la mayor parte de su personal de la embajada en La Habana pero ha evitado culpar al gobierno de Cuba de los ataques. El gobierno cubano ha negado estar involucrado en los eventos y ha acusado de mentirosos a los que hablan en términos de “ataques”.

Sin embargo, funcionarios, expertos y congresistas han insistido en que es poco probable que el gobierno cubano desconociera quién está detrás de esos incidentes. Cuba también ha fallado en la protección de los diplomáticos estadounidenses, ha insistido el Departamento de Estado.

Una de las teorías más populares en Washington y Miami es que alguna facción conservadora dentro del gobierno cubano, interesada en sabotear el proceso de normalización de las relaciones iniciado por Obama, habría colaborado de algún modo con los rusos.

“Históricamente ese ha sido un problema para ellos”, dijo Mora al referirse a la “simpatía” por Rusia dentro de las fuerzas de seguridad cubanas, que fueron originalmente entrenadas por expertos soviéticos. Para el experto, sería difícil que Raúl Castro, quien dejó el gobierno en abril pero se mantiene al frente del Partido Comunista, admitiera que no tiene el control absoluto de lo que sucede dentro de la isla.

Desde hace meses circulan rumores de que antes de dejar el cargo de presidente, Castro habría desmantelado o reorganizado discretamente la Comisión de Defensa y Seguridad Nacional dirigida por su hijo, el coronel Alejandro Castro Espín, ya sea porque este no supo de los ataques, no supo detenerlos, o de algún modo fue partícipe o cómplice. El Nuevo Herald no ha podido corroborar estos rumores pero Castro-Espín no ha sido visto en público en los últimos meses.

Al mismo tiempo, varios expertos recuerdan fallos en el trabajo de las fuerzas de seguridad cubana que podrían haberse repetido en este caso.

“Es improbable dado el estricto nivel de control que el régimen mantiene sobre la población, que no supieran [de los ataques]”, dijo Sabatini. “Pero en los noventa [del siglo pasado], hubo una serie de bombardeos en hoteles y pasaron semanas antes de que detuvieran a los responsables. Es poco probable pero no imposible“.

En esta oscura trama, las motivaciones de Rusia para atacar a Estados Unidos parecen estar más a la vista. 

“Está claro que Rusia tiene interés en sabotear la renovada relación entre los Estados Unidos y Cuba. ”, declaró James Williams, quien dirige Engage Cuba, una coalición de empresas que apoyó el acercamiento emprendido por Obama y presiona para poner para el fin del embargo. “En los últimos años, Rusia ha intensificado el compromiso y la inversión en Cuba porque están claramente amenazados. Si estas acusaciones son confirmadas, la administración de Trump tiene la responsabilidad de que Rusia responda por estos actos”.

Ben Rhodes, el asesor de Obama que negoció el restablecimiento de relaciones, ha declarado que espías rusos estuvieron siguiendo de cerca las negociaciones secretas.

Pero los observadores de las relaciones entre Cuba y Estados Unidos no se ponen de acuerdo sobre qué ganaría Cuba con participar o hacerse de la vista gorda con los ataques.

“Los supuestos ataques ocurrieron cuando las relaciones entre nuestros países estaban en su mejor momento en más de medio siglo. Raúl Castro apostó todo su legado a la normalización de las relaciones diplomáticas con los Estados Unidos”, dijo Ric Herrero, director de políticas del Cuba Study Group.

“No tiene sentido que el gobierno cubano, que Raúl todavía supervisa como Primer Secretario del Partido Comunista, socave sus propios esfuerzos para normalizar el comercio y las relaciones diplomáticas con EEUU, especialmente cuando su principal benefactor, Venezuela, está a punto del colapso”, agregó.

La economía rusa ha sufrido por las sanciones de Estados Unidos y otros gobiernos, apuntó Mora, y el país no está en condiciones de ofrecer la ayuda económica que Cuba necesita.

Pero, además de las promesas de ayudar en la modernización del sistema de ferrocarriles, aeroportuario y militar, Rusia está supliendo parte del petróleo que Venezuela había estado ofreciendo a Cuba bajo términos preferenciales y eso “es más de lo que Cuba obtiene de Estados Unidos”, apuntó Sabatini.

Por otra parte, los ataques comenzaron después de la elección de Donald Trump en noviembre del 2016, de modo que “los cubanos podían sospechar que el acercamiento iba a terminar. ¿Qué tenían que perder?”, agregó Sabatini. “La economía cubana está muy necesitada”.

Los más recientes incidentes ocurridos en abril y mayo han dejado particularmente perplejos a algunos analistas, quienes argumentan que para ese entonces, luego de que salieran a la luz pública y las relaciones con EEUU se deterioraran, el gobierno cubano debía haber sido capaz de detenerlos.

“Tiene sentido si [los cubanos] están tan a oscuras sobre lo está sucediendo como nosotros”, opinó William LeoGrande, profesor de American University. “Hay que tener en cuenta que hay casos en China también. China y Rusia son rivales, no aliados, pero los chinos tampoco han tenido éxito en resolver el misterio. Creo que Rusia está usando estos ataques para tratar de abrir una brecha entre Estados Unidos y Cuba, y Estados Unidos y China, como una manera de reforzar la influencia rusa”. 

Varios analistas coinciden en que el peso de la respuesta de EEUU debía recaer en Rusia, no en Cuba, si se confirma que aquel es el principal responsable.

“Si los rusos son responsables, no tiene sentido imponer sanciones adicionales contra Cuba a menos que se pueda demostrar que los cubanos sabían y eran colaboradores activos”, opinó LeoGrande. “Esto es especialmente cierto ya que las relaciones diplomáticas con Cuba sirven a los intereses de los Estados Unidos y, en gran medida, al servicio de los intereses cubanos, y los intereses estadounidenses ya han sufrido como resultado de la reducción del personal de la embajada”.

“Si la evidencia contra Rusia es clara, Cuba podía y debería proporcionar garantías creíbles a los Estados Unidos de que esto no volverá a ocurrir”, agregó LeoGrande. 

Para los sectores que han apoyado la política de acercamiento, la trama de los ataques en La Habana solo demuestra lo que puede suceder cuando Estados Unidos se retira del hemisferio.

“Al hacer retroceder nuestra política de acercamiento, Trump y aquellos que desean aislar a Cuba estarían cediendo efectivamente nuestro vecindario a Rusia y colocando sus propias agendas políticas domésticas estrechas por delante de nuestra seguridad nacional”, opinó Herrero. “Nuestro país no puede darse ese lujo”.

Cuba Debate: Grupo bipartidista estadounidense pide más comercio agrícola con Cuba

Un grupo bipartidista de más de 60 asociaciones de agricultura, empresas y funcionarios electos de 17 estados norteamericanos instó hoy a miembros del Congreso a adoptar una enmienda que ampliaría el comercio agrícola con Cuba.

De acuerdo con la coalición Engage Cuba, esos actores llamaron al liderazgo de los comités de Agricultura en la Cámara de Representantes y del Senado a incluir en la Ley Agrícola 2018 una disposición que según la Oficina de Presupuesto del Congreso ahorraría 690 millones de dólares en 10 años.

La enmienda sugerida, adaptada de la Ley de Exportaciones Agrícolas de Cuba, ampliaría ese tipo de intercambio al eliminar las restricciones al financiamiento privado para las exportaciones de alimentos estadounidenses a la nación vecina.

En una misiva, el grupo también pidió a los legisladores preservar una disposición del Senado que permitirá a los agricultores norteamericanos utilizar los fondos de promoción del mercado federal en el país caribeño.

“Los exhortamos a que apoyen la agricultura estadounidense al promover una legislación que haga de Cuba un mercado viable para nuestros productos”, expresaron firmantes como el Consejo Agrícola de Arkansas, la Comisión de Trigo de Kansas, la Asociación Avícola de Kentucky, y Kevin Berken, presidente del Consejo de Promoción del Arroz de Luisiana.

Según señalaron en la carta, los ingresos agrícolas netos en este país durante 2018 alcanzaron un mínimo de 12 años, al caer más que durante la Gran Recesión de la década pasada.

Esta distorsión económica es sentida por todos en la industria, particularmente en las miles de pequeñas granjas familiares en el corazón de Estados Unidos. Dado el declive del mercado del 6,7 por ciento este año, no podemos dejar de resaltar la importancia del comercio y de abrir nuevos mercados internacionales, apuntaron.

Mediante su comunicado, Engage Cuba recordó que, en la actualidad, las ventas de productos agrícolas a la isla están limitadas a transacciones en efectivo, lo que hace que esa nación recurra principalmente a Europa, América Latina y Asia para importar mercancías de ese tipo por unos dos mil millones de dólares al año.

Según el texto, los grupos agrícolas de Estados Unidos quieren participación en un mercado de 11 millones de habitantes, que recibe una afluencia anual de tres a cinco millones de turistas.

La misiva manifestó a los miembros del Capitolio que su apoyo para eliminar las barreras financieras obsoletas en las ventas agrícolas al territorio vecino podría fortalecer significativamente una industria que respalda 17 millones de empleos en todo Estados Unidos.

Agregó que los agricultores estadounidenses que trabajan duro pueden y deben ser el principal proveedor de Cuba en cuanto a productos básicos como arroz, aves de corral, lácteos, soja, trigo y maíz.

High Plains Journal: Kansas Soybean Association joins over 60 groups to support farm bill Cuba provision

Kansas soybean producers joined a bipartisan group of over 60 agriculture associations, businesses, and elected officials across 17 states in urging House and Senate Agriculture Committees to include a provision in the 2018 farm bill that the Congressional Budget Office determined would save $690 million over 10 years. The suggested amendment, adapted from the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (H.R. 525), would expand agricultural trade with Cuba by removing restrictions on private financing for U.S. food exports. The letter also urges lawmakers to preserve a Senate provision that allows farmers to use federal market promotion funds in Cuba. Former Kansas Wheat Commission Chair Brian Linin also signed the letter.

"We urge you to support American agriculture by advancing legislation that will make Cuba a viable market for our products,” the groups said. “Net farm income in 2018 has hit a 12-year low, falling further than during the Great Recession of last decade. This economic strain is felt by everyone in the industry, particularly the thousands of small, family-owned farms in the American heartland. Given this year’s 6.7 percent market decline, we cannot overstate the importance of trade and opening new international markets.”  According to Cuba Trade Magazine, Kansas exports to Cuba could reach $38 million per year if trade restrictions were lifted. Many of Kansas’ top agricultural products, such as wheat, soybeans, corn, and dairy, are staple imports for Cuba. Kansas exports over $800 million annually in wheat, but there is virtually no wheat trade between Kansas and Cuba. Cuba also imports $141 million annually in soybeans, Kansas’ third-largest farm export.

"Today farm country is filled with uncertainty. Passing a farm bill is paramount, but in doing so we must look ahead and support mutually beneficial economic opportunities, like those in Cuba,” said Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS-1), a cosponsor of H.R. 525. “While we are renegotiating our trade deals, we have a $2 billion market untouched right under our nose.”

Currently, U.S. sales of agricultural products to Cuba are limited to cash transactions, causing Cuba to primarily turn to Europe, Latin America, and Asia for nearly $2 billion per year in agricultural imports. Cuba imports roughly 80 percent of its food and has a population of 11 million, plus an influx of 3-5 million tourists annually. U.S. agriculture groups want to reclaim some of that market share.

Our current Cuba trade financing laws deny our farmers access to a market valued at over $1 billion per year. I appreciate Sen. Boozman and Sen. Heitkamp’s work to include Cuba Agricultural trade language in the Senate version of the farm bill and I look forward to working to replace the current cash-for-crop requirements,” said Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR-1), the lead sponsor of the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act and a participant in the farm bill conference committee.

Our farmers don't want handouts. They know if they can compete with the rest of the world they can win,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba. “There is no reason why the Cuban people shouldn’t be eating American rice and dairy instead of importing it from Vietnam and New Zealand."

The Senate’s version of the farm bill already includes an amendment by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) which would allow U.S. agricultural producers to spend U.S. Department of Agriculture market promotion funds on marketing to Cuba. 

“The United States has just 5 percent of the world’s population, which means 95 percent of consumers live outside our borders. If we aren’t constantly working to open markets and reach new customers, American farmers and workers won’t be competitive on the global stage. That’s why it’s so important for U.S. farmers and ranchers to gain access to markets like Cuba, where there is demand for American agricultural products,”said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

“My bipartisan amendment would give USDA the ability to build reliable trade partnerships between U.S. producers and Cuban buyers, strengthening our ag economy and finally removing outdated barriers to selling our products to consumers in a nation that sits just off our coastline. It would also help boost North Dakota’s farmers during a time of serious uncertainty from the administration’s trade policies,” she said. 

To become law, both provisions must be approved by the bicameral conference committee, which convened officially for the first time on Sept. 5.

More information on Cuba's agriculture import market and federal legislation is available here

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Prensa Latina: Rejection of US Blockade Imposed on Cuba Increases

In several sectors of North American society, the rejection of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba by Washington for almost six decades has increased.

Despite the intensification of this unilateral policy by the government of President Donald Trump in order to stop the process of normalization of bilateral relations that began in 2014, in the northern nation there are more voices in favor of the elimination of the siege.

Groups like Engage Cuba and CubaNow, whose objective is to promote the links between Havana and Washington and promote the elimination of the blockade, are an example of this, the annual report on the effects of the blockade on society and the impact of its extraterritorial component stresses.

Published by the Foreign Ministry of the Caribbean island, the text details that on June 6, 2017, the Michigan State Senate adopted a resolution to request the United States Congress to develop and improve trade relations with Cuba.

Meanwhile, a few days later, the Engage Cuba group and the MorningConsult company revealed the results of a survey related to Cuba, in which it was learned that the majority of voters registered as Republicans support the elimination of trade and travel restrictions to Cuba.

Also last year, the Florida Atlantic University published the results of a survey on Cuba, which showed that only 34 percent of residents in that state support Trump's policy.

For his part, in August 2017, Senator Ron Wyden presented a bill for trade between Cuba and the United States with the aim of repealing sanctions against the island and establishing normal trade relations between both countries.

In addition, a coalition of 28 tour operators and companies specializing in educational trips to the Caribbean nation demanded the reduction of restrictions on the travel of US citizens to Cuba in a statement addressed to Trump.

Days ago, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the island published the text on the resolution 72/4 of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN), entitled 'Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.'

The document collects the damages of the unilateral measure between April 2017 and March 2018 and illustrates the effects of the siege ahead of a new vote, on October 31, at the UN General Assembly.

For 26 years, the international community supports similar initiatives in the multilateral organization, where the US blockade receives qualifications such as crime, injustice, violation of human rights, an obstacle to development and relics of the Cold War. 

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Bayou City Broadcasting: Louisiana rice producers join over 60 groups to support Farm Bill Cuba Provision

Today, Louisiana rice producers, including the Louisiana Rice Promotion Council and Kennedy Rice, joined a bipartisan group of over 60 agriculture associations, businesses, and elected officials across 17 states in urging House and Senate Agriculture Committees to include a provision in the 2018 farm bill that the Congressional Budget Office determined would save $690 million over 10 years. The suggested amendment, adapted from the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (H.R. 525), would expand agricultural trade with Cuba by removing restrictions on private financing for U.S. food exports. The letter also urges lawmakers to preserve a Senate provision that allows farmers to use federal market promotion funds in Cuba.

“We urge you to support American agriculture by advancing legislation that will make Cuba a viable market for our products,” the groups said. “Net farm income in 2018 has hit a 12-year low, falling further than during the Great Recession of last decade. This economic strain is felt by everyone in the industry, particularly the thousands of small, family-owned farms in the American heartland. Given this year’s 6.7 percent market decline, we cannot overstate the importance of trade and opening new international markets.” 

Many of Louisiana’s top agricultural products, such as rice, soybeans, and poultry, are staple imports for Cuba. Cuba has the highest per capita rice consumption in the Western Hemisphere, and Louisiana is the nation’s third-largest rice producer. The island imports $141 million annually in soybeans, which are Louisiana’s most valuable export. 

Currently, U.S. sales of agricultural products to Cuba are limited to cash transactions, causing Cuba to primarily turn to Europe, Latin America, and Asia for nearly $2 billion per year in agricultural imports. Cuba imports roughly 80% of its food and has a population of 11 million, plus an influx of 3-5 million tourists annually. U.S. agriculture groups want to reclaim some of that market share.

“Our current Cuba trade financing laws deny our farmers access to a market valued at over $1 billion per year. I appreciate Senator Boozman and Senator Heitkamp’s work to include Cuba Agricultural trade language in the Senate version of the Farm Bill and I look forward to working to replace the current cash-for-crop requirements,” said Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR-1), the lead sponsor of the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act and a participant in the farm bill conference committee.

“Today farm country is filled with uncertainty. Passing a Farm Bill is paramount, but in doing so we must look ahead and support mutually beneficial economic opportunities, like those in Cuba,” said Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS-1), a cosponsor of H.R. 525. “While we are renegotiating our trade deals, we have a $2 billion market untouched right under our nose.”

“Our farmers don’t want handouts. They know if they can compete with the rest of the world they can win,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba. “There is no reason why the Cuban people shouldn’t be eating American rice and dairy instead of importing it from Vietnam and New Zealand.”

The Senate’s version of the farm bill already includes an amendment by Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) which would allow U.S. agricultural producers to spend U.S. Department of Agriculture market promotion funds on marketing to Cuba.

“The United States has just five percent of the world’s population, which means 95 percent of consumers live outside our borders. If we aren’t constantly working to open markets and reach new customers, American farmers and workers won’t be competitive on the global stage. That’s why it’s so important for U.S. farmers and ranchers to gain access to markets like Cuba, where there is demand for American agricultural products,” said Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). 

“My bipartisan amendment would give USDA the ability to build reliable trade partnerships between U.S. producers and Cuban buyers, strengthening our ag economy and finally removing outdated barriers to selling our products to consumers in a nation that sits just off our coastline. It would also help boost North Dakota’s farmers during a time of serious uncertainty from the administration’s trade policies,” she said. 

To become law, both provisions must be approved by the bicameral conference committee, which convened officially for the first time on Wednesday.

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Miami Herald: Now Russia is suspected of attacks against diplomats in Cuba. Will U.S. strike back?

Cuba is again in the middle of what could be another confrontation between the United States and Russia, after Moscow was identified in a news report as the main suspect in the string of mysterious attacks against U.S. embassy personnel and relatives in Havana.

An NBC report quoting unidentified U.S. officials said federal agencies investigating the incidents have intercepted intelligence communications that point to Russian responsibility for the attacks, although the evidence is not conclusive enough to formally accuse Moscow.

But if a Russian role is confirmed, “that would be unprecedented. That’s never happened,” said Frank Mora, who served as deputy secretary of defense for Latin America and now heads the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University.

“Russia has meddled in the U.S. elections and has been behind the attacks on former Russian spies in England, but to provoke serious injuries to U.S. officials, that is much more complicated and the United States has to react in some way,” he added.

The NBC report said the U.S. military is working to replicate the weapon or weapons used to injure 26 employees of the State Department, the CIA and other federal agencies as well as relatives who were based in Havana. The victims suffered symptoms such as loss of hearing, cognitive problems and some experienced brain damage.

A team of doctors that investigated the incidents at the request of the U.S. government has said it’s possible the attackers used a “neuro-weapon” of directed energy that could damage the brain by causing a “cavitation” effect with ultrasonic, electromagnetic or microwaves. The U.S. Air Force research program on directed energy is participating in the investigation.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert cautioned reporters to be “very skeptical” about the NBC report during a press briefing on Tuesday. “Our position has not changed. We have not assigned any blame and we continue to look into this.”

Mora and other experts told el Nuevo Herald that if Moscow’s role in the attacks is confirmed, the U.S. government could impose more sanctions on Russia. “There would be pressure for President Donald Trump or the White House to issue a statement,” said Chris Sabatini, a Latin American expert and professor at Columbia University.

Cuba also could face repercussions.

“My fear is that Cuba would be more of a whipping boy for Russia, even though their fingerprints are everywhere”, said Sabatini. “It’s the weakest player, and that’s been the U.S. policy under the Trump administration.”

Trump has stepped up the U.S. rhetoric against Cuba and tightened restrictions on travel and investments on the island. With the likely appointment of anti-Castro hardliner Mauricio Claver-Carone as Latin American director at the National Security Council, the White House could use the Havana attacks to reverse more of the engagement measures adopted by former President Barack Obama and perhaps even return Cuba to the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, Sabatini said.

Mora said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican who is close to Claver-Carone and has influenced Trump policies on Cuba, could use “the opportunity to tighten and put more sanctions and pressures on the Cuban government.”

The senator’s office declined to comment on the NBC report, but Rubio told el Nuevo Herald last week that “ultimately it’s the Cuban regime who needs to be held accountable. Because either they carried out these attacks or they know who did and aren’t telling us.”

The U.S. government withdrew most of its embassy personnel in Havana, but has not blamed Cuba for the attacks. The Cuban government has denied any involvement and branded the complaints as lies.

Yet, Rubio is not alone in saying there’s little chance the Cuban government does not know who’s behind the incidents. Cuba has failed to protect U.S. personnel in Havana, the State Department has argued.

One of the most popular theories in Washington and Miami is that hardliners within the Cuban government, who wanted to stop the process of normalization of relations started by the Obama administration, could have collaborated with Russia on the attacks.

“Historically, that’s been a problem for them,” said Mora, referring to the sympathy among Cuban security officials for the Soviet experts who trained them. And Raúl Castro, who stepped down as president in April but remains head of the Communist Party of Cuba, may not want to admit that he does not have total control of what happens on the island.

There have been unconfirmed reports in recent months that before he left the government, Castro quietly dismantled or reorganized the National Security and Defense Commission headed by his son, Interior Ministry Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, because either the son was not aware of the attacks, could not stop them or was involved in some way. El Nuevo Herald has not been able to confirm the rumors, but Castro Espín has not been seen in public for several months.

Some experts have said that Cuban security forces may have simply failed to notice and stop the attacks.

“It is unlikely, given the tight level of control the regime maintains over the population, that they didn’t know,” said Sabatini. “But in the mid 1990s, there was a series of bombings in hotels and weeks passed before they got those responsible. It is unlikely, but not impossible.”

In this obscure saga, Russia’s motivations for attacking U.S. officials may be more evident.

“It is clear that Russia has an interest in sabotaging the renewed U.S.-Cuba relationship. Over the past few years, Russia has ramped up engagement and investment in Cuba because they are clearly threatened,” said James Williams, head of Engage Cuba, a coalition of U.S. companies pushing to improve relations with Cuba and end the U.S. embargo. “If these allegations are confirmed, the Trump administration has a responsibility to hold Russia accountable.”

Ben Rhodes, who handled the Obama administration’s secret negotiations to reestablish diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana, has said that Russian spies closely followed the contacts.

But analysts of U.S.-Cuba relations don’t agree on what Havana could win by participating in or turning a blind eye to the attacks.

“The alleged attacks occurred when relations between our countries were at their best point in over half a century. Raúl Castro (bet) his entire legacy on normalizing diplomatic relations with the United States” said Ric Herrero, policy director of the Cuba Study Group.

“It makes no sense for the Cuba government, which Raúl still oversees as First Secretary of the Communist Party, to undermine its own efforts to normalize trade and diplomatic relations with the U.S., especially when its top benefactor, Venezuela, is on the verge of total collapse,” Herrero added.

The Russian economy is suffering under sanctions imposed by the U.S. and other governments, Mora said, and the country is not in a position to offer the kind of economic subsidies that Cuba needs.

But the Russians have promised to help modernize the island’s railroad and port systems as well as its military, and it is supplying part of the oil that Venezuela had been delivering on preferential terms, said Sabatini: “That’s more than what Cuba gets from the United States.”

On the other hand, the attacks started right after Donald Trump was elected president in November of 2016, said Sabatini, and the Cubans “could have suspected that the engagement (under Obama) was going to end. What did they have to lose? The Cuban economy is in dire need.”

The most recent attacks, reported in April and May, have perplexed most analysts who argue that by then, the Cuban government should have figured out who was behind the attacks and stopped them.

“It makes sense if they are as much in the dark about how it is happening as we are,” said American University professor William LeoGrande. “Note that there are cases in China as well. China and Russia are rivals, not allies, but the Chinese have no success solving the mystery either. I think Russia is using these attacks to try to drive a wedge between the United States and Cuba, and the United States and China, as a way of bolstering Russian influence.”

Several analysts agreed that the focus of any U.S. response should be on Russia, not Cuba, if Moscow is confirmed as the principal responsible.

“If the Russians are responsible, then it doesn’t make sense to impose additional sanctions against Cuba unless it can be demonstrated that the Cubans knew and were active collaborators,” said LeoGrande. “This is especially true since diplomatic relations with Cuba serve U.S. interests as much as they serve Cuban interests, and U.S. interests have already suffered as a result of the reduced embassy staffing.

“If the evidence against Russia is clear, Cuba could and should provide credible assurances to the United States that this will not happen again,” LeoGrande added.

For those who favor a U.S. policy of engagement with Cuba, the attacks on Havana only show what can happen when the United States withdraws from the Hemisphere.

“By rolling back our policy of engagement, Trump and those who wish to isolate Cuba would be effectively ceding our neighborhood to Russia and placing their own narrow, domestic political agendas ahead of our national security,” said Herrero. “Our country cannot afford this.”

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POLITICO: Trump packs foreign policy team with Cuba hardliners from Florida

President Trump is poised to promote an international finance official tied to Sen. Marco Rubio to lead Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council, making him the fourth member of an unofficial team of top pro-democracy Cuba hardliners who are executing and advocating for the administration’s Latin American policies.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, an attorney who rose to prominence in conservative foreign policy circles as a writer for the Capitol Hill Cubans blog and as the executive director of the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC, advised Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. He then joined Trump’s transition team for the U.S. Treasury department, where he later worked on and was instrumental in U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s president, who was labeled a “dictator” by the Trump administration.

Now the acting head of the International Monetary Fund, Claver-Carone will work under National Security Advisor John Bolton and coordinate White House policy with the State, Treasury and other departments. Reached by phone, Claver-Carone said he couldn’t comment.

Claver-Carone joins fellow Cuban-Americans promoted by Trump to execute a hardline foreign policy in which Cuba is seen as a major disruptor in Latin American affairs: Carlos Trujillo (U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States), Eliot Pedrosa (U.S. Alternate Executive Director of the InterAmerican Development Bank) and Tomas Regalado (head of Radio Marti).

That places the president’s foreign policy in the region in the hands of top anti-Castro hardliners in the areas of White House policy, multi-lateral policy, finance and media.

“We have people who understand the cause, and not just the symptoms, of the problems in Latin America – not all the problems — and that is Cuba,” said Otto Reich, who has a long foreign policy resume under former presidents Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.

“The United States has been a fire brigade in Latin America for the last 60 years and we have ignored, to a large degree, the arsonist,” Reich said. “Look at Venezuela today. The Cubans run the military intelligence systems, strategic comms, the voter rolls, the ports, airports, counter-intelligence police. In Nicaragua, it’s practically the same thing. They’re supporting [Nicaragua President Daniel] Ortega. The Cubans are in Bolivia supporting Evo Morales and they were supporting the violence in Colombia, in Argentina and in Brazil.”

Venezuela’s deteriorating economy and failed-state government is leading to the largest mass-migration in the hemisphere — an estimated 2 million people — and is on pace for an inflation rate of 1 million percent, meaning a person who had $1 million before the crisis hit now has a worth of $1.

Reich, a former ambassador to Venezuela who’s now a lobbyist, said Claver-Carone’s intelligence and background make him ideal to understanding Venezuela’s problems and the influential role of trade and finance in the region. He said his “strong personality” makes him a good fit in national security circles because “it attracts strong personalities.”

Trujillo, for instance, worked with Vice President Mike Pence to persuade a majority of the Organization of American States to vote to eventually expel Venezuela from the organization.

All have close ties to Rubio, who’s playing a central role in setting U.S. policy in Latin America as chair of the Senate’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. Rubio has a close relationship with Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who successfully pushed for tougher Venezuela sanctions Rubio had been calling for — including penalties that target a Venezuelan official implicated in an assassination plot against the senator.

Rubio and Florida GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart were architects of Trump’s policy to unwind President Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba, and used as a reference point the “Military Transparency Act” that Rubio had previously written with the input of Claver-Carone.

Claver-Carone was not involved directly in the issue because he was a former registered lobbyist on Cuba-related issues and felt he shouldn’t be involved directly in Cuba policy for two years after entering the administration, according to a knowledgeable source.

Claver-Carone’s former lobbying, blogging and political activity have made him a target of pro-Cuba engagement activists who supported Obama’s policy.

"Claver-Carone built his career peddling campaign cash to dissuade members of Congress from revising our failed Cuban embargo policy,” said James Williams, president of a group called Engage Cuba, who also criticized Claver-Carone for elections and ethics complaints that had been filed against him years ago.

“It's a mistake to appoint someone with such poor judgement and lousy ethics to direct White House policy toward the rest of the Americas, especially at this critical time in the region,” Williams said.

Williams and other activists also noted that Claver-Carone had once called himself a “Never Trump” Republican during the 2016 GOP presidential primary when he backed Sen. Rubio’s failed presidential campaign.

Brian Ballard, Trump’s former Florida lobbyist and a top fundraiser for the president’s 2016 campaign, laughed at the description of Claver-Carone as anti-Trump. Ballard, whose firm also employs Reich as a lobbyist, said Claver-Carone was instrumental in advising the president’s campaign and then his administration.

Along with Trujillo and Pedrosa, Ballard said, Cuba, Venezuela and their allies will become increasingly isolated in the region.

“President Trump’s anti-Castro policy couldn’t be better served than by having three of these important men in such important posts,” Ballard said. “All three have served the country well to rid the hemisphere of the Maduro-Castro axis.”

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MarketWatch: Is Now a Good Time to Book Flights to Cuba

MarketWatch 

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/is-now-a-good-time-to-book-flights-to-cuba-2018-07-17?mc_cid=b4b5cec037&mc_eid=23af3a5094

There has been a significant decline in tourism since this decision, said Gabrielle Jorgensen, director of public policy at Engage Cuba. “Americans should know that Cuba is still a viable option, and that the regulations did not change as much as many people think,” Jorgensen said.