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Cuba eyes more cows from state

Cuba eyes more cows from state

November 3, 2006

By Bruce Edwards Rutland Herald

— More Vermont cows could be making their way to Cuba next year
as that country continues to rebuild its dairy and beef industries.

“In the spring, Cuba intends to buy more dairy cattle,” said John Parke
Wright IV, the Florida cattle broker who arranged the first sale of
Vermont cows to Cuba two years ago.

While not committing to a certain time frame, a top Cuban trade official
said his country would welcome more trade with the United States and

“We are always looking to buy more cattle and the U.S. could be the
largest supplier of cows to Cuba,” Pedro Alvarez, head of Alimport, said
Wednesday on the third day of the 24th annual International Havana Trade

Like other Cuban officials, Alvarez said the 45-year-old trade
continues to make even limited U.S. trade with Cuba difficult, if not

Since 2001, only and agricultural products can be exported from the
U.S. to the communist island of 11.4 million people.

The 76 Vermont Holstein and Jersey heifers arrived at the Niña Bonita
farm outside Havana last August. So far, Cuban officials are pleased
with the cows’ performance and their offspring. They say the cows are in
good and are continuing to adapt to Cuba’s hot and humid climate.

The Vermont cows were not only purchased for their milk production but
for their breeding, which is a high priority for the Cuban government.

“They are animals with very good genetic potential,” said Roberto
Hernandez Antunez, the Niña Bonita Farm manager.

In addition to supplying fresh milk, the cows also provide milk for Niña
Bonita farm brand ice cream and yogurt.

At a luncheon this week at the farm, desert was ice cream made with milk
from Vermont cows.

The high regard the Cuban government has for the Vermont livestock also
comes from Guillermo Garcia Frias, one of the government’s top leaders
and a close associate of Fidel and .

Raul Castro assumed temporary power this summer from his ailing brother,
Fidel, who continues to recover from surgery for an undisclosed illness.

During a meeting this week with Wright and several U.S. businessmen,
Garcia Frias, who oversees the country’s farmland and environment,
called the genetics of the Vermont cows “very good.”

He, too, said Cuba was eager to do more such business with the United

Vermont’s trading ties with Cuba began three years ago when Lt. Gov.
Brian Dubie returned from a trade mission to Havana with memoranda of
understanding from Cuba to purchase cows, apples and dry milk.

The Cubans carried through, purchasing cows and more than $6 million in
dry milk. The purchase of 4,000 bushels of apples, however, fell through
in part because the U.S. State Department delayed issuing visas for
Cuban inspectors to visit Vermont, said state Secretary
Steve Kerr.

Through the years, the U.S. government has defended the embargo as a way
to bring an end to the Castro dictatorship. The Bush administration in
particular has tightened the economic noose, adding further restrictions
and stepped up enforcement of the travel ban on U.S. citizens.

Interest in buying Vermont cows goes beyond the Cuban government.

The head of the Catholic Church in Cuba is considering acquiring a small
number of cows as well.

“The new seminary we’re building now is interested to have cows for the
seminarians,” said Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who stopped by Wright’s booth
at the fair.

“Hopefully our friends in Vermont can help the cardinal,” Wright said.

Contact Bruce Edwards at

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