Engage Cuba Coalition Urging Iowans to Put Pressure on Politicians

NBC Des Moines, IA

By: Jodi Whitworth

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Last summer, President Obama began renewing relations with Cuba by opening the U.S. Embassy.

However, the effort to lift the Cuba's trade embargo is still far from over. In order for those restrictions to be lifted, Congress must approve it.

That hasn't happened yet but an out of state lobbyist group visiting Des Moines Friday is urging local leaders to put pressure on the politicians.

The group, Engage Cuba, highlighted what increased trades could mean for Iowa's economy.

The goal of the coalition is simple.

"We're hoping that we're going to start a renewed conversation about the benefits for the people of Iowa, the economy of Iowa as well as the Cuban people," said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba.

Iowa is the coalition's seventh stop on its nationwide tour and it ranks high when it comes down to what we have to offer to Cuba.

The state is the nation's second leading agricultural exporter.

Some local ag leaders say an open trade is a "win-win" for everyone.

"Cuba needs to import 80 percent of their food and much of these products can be delivered by Iowa farmers," said Craig Hill of the Iowa Farm Bureau.

However, the trade won't help everything relating to Cuba.

Right now, the embargo doesn't allow for Hibbs to sell Cuban cigars.

"We're the largest cigar store in Iowa and probably only the largest in the midwest," Hibbs said.

Even if it were to be lifted, a new FDA regulation would keep cigar shops from selling real Cuban cigars.

This would likely cause prices of cigars to skyrocket.

"If it ever did, you probably wouldn't see a Cuban Puro," Hibbs said. "You would probably see a Cuban wrapper on the cigar."

Hibbs says he doesn't think the embargo will be lifted anytime soon but others remain optimistic -- putting pressure on Congress to act.

"We have it within our power and Congress has it within its power to make this change now to bring jobs and millions of dollars of trade benefits to the people of Iowa," Williams said.

Farmers argue the sooner the embargo is lifted, the better.

Right now commodity prices are below the cost of production -- meaning farmers could increase their profits and increase the U.S. market shares when it comes to trading with other countries.