Thursday, December 15, 2005

United States Should Lift Embargo Against Cuba

Thursday December 15, 2005

© 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc

The United States' restrictive policies on Cuba are out of date, self-defeating and harmful to the economies of Maine and the nation.
The decades-old embargo limiting U.S.-Cuban trade should be lifted -- even if Fidel Castro is still in power.

The sanctions, after all, accomplish nothing except to cause economic hardship for two nations. And because other countries, including Canada, are not honoring the embargo, the restriction's impact is minimal.

Yes, Castro is a dictator, whose communist regime is notorious for its human-rights violations and abuses, including harassing, detaining and even imprisoning people for political reasons. He is, by any measure, a bad guy who needed to go long ago.

But these concerns should not be reasons that businesses -- employers -- in Maine and across the United States should be prevented from selling as much as possible to Cubans.

The island nation, after all, is rife with potential. As proof, look at how a Maine trade delegation now in Havana has fared despite the federal limits placed on what can be sold to Cuba

Gov. John E. Baldacci, who spent Sunday and Monday in Cuba as part of the trade group, has signed a trade agreement with Cuban officials calling for them to buy $20 million worth of agricultural products from Maine companies -- including dairy cows, seed potatoes, apples, eggs, frozen fish, sardines, wood products and other goods -- over the next two years.

The agreement expanded on and finalized a preliminary, $10 million export agreement signed last year by Robert W. Spear, then Maine's agriculture commissioner, and by the head of Cuba's state-run, food-import agency. It makes Maine the 37th state that is selling millions of dollars in agricultural products to Cuba.

The successful trade mission, during which Baldacci and members of his staff met with and discussed agricultural issues with Castro, has generated greater sales commitments than the combined total of the three previous trade missions that Mainers have taken.

Baldacci, along with other state officials and business people from Maine, traveled to France in October, Germany and Italy in 2004 and Ireland and the United Kingdom in 2003. Maine businesses generated $5.2 million in sales from the France trip, $1.2 million from the Germany-Italy trip and $7.5 million from the trip to Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Clearly, Cuba is a potentially lucrative market and trading partner.
We understand why the U.S. government broke diplomatic relations and ordered a trade and travel with Cuba in 1959, when Castro became premier, (he assumed the title of president in 1976.)

And it made sense when Congress passed a law in 2000 allowing American food and medicine to be sold to communist Cuba on a cash-only basis -- to be paid in full before the items leave American ports.
But today, the embargo's only demonstrable effect is to unnecessarily hinder economic -- and cultural -- interaction between the United States and Cuba. (Cuban products, including its famous cigars, still cannot be brought into this country.)

We agree with Baldacci, the sixth U.S. governor to travel to Cuba, that Maine should be a leader in the effort to expand trade with the island only 90 miles from Key West, Fla.

"We're working within the existing framework, trying to show other states the ability to trade with Cuba, and gain from Maine leadership," Baldacci said. "We hope to demonstrate how important this is."

This plan makes sense.

The federal government should take a close look at a trade-and-travel embargo against Cuba that made sense in 1959 -- and for many years after.

What was once a fitting political and strategic response to a communist dictator does little today except hurt the people and economies of the United States and Cuba.

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