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Cuba is the latest land of opportunity

Cuba is the latest land of opportunity
Ohio farmer part of group sowing seeds of trade
BY JD MALONE Published: Tuesday, 3/17/2015

COLUMBUS — Ohio farmer John Linder rode in a 1957 Chevy, sipped rum,
marveled at the beauty and ruin of Havana, and smoked a cigar on his
recent trip to Cuba.

But the reason he was there — and the thing that never left his mind —
was corn.

Morrow County is two counties north of Columbus.

Now that the U.S. government has taken steps toward normalizing
relations with the island nation, trade opportunities are being explored.

The trip, organized by the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, was the
first trade mission since President Obama’s announcement of a change in
policy in December.

The coalition consists of food companies, farmers, state agriculture
officials, Democrats, and Republicans. The trip included a pair of
former U.S. Department of Agriculture secretaries: John Block, who
served under President Ronald Reagan, and Mike Espy, who served under
President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Linder returned with the knowledge that Cuba needs a bit of
everything that Americans take for granted — infrastructure,
information, equipment — and corn and soybeans.

In fields fenced by miles of neatly piled stones, Soviet-era tractors
sat idle for lack of spare parts, Mr. Linder said. Farmers plowed the
land with cattle.

“Cuba is a land and a people lost in time,” said Mr. Linder, who is from
Morrow County.

There has been a U.S. embargo of varying degrees on goods going to and
from Cuba for 54 years. The group wants to end the embargo for the good
of both U.S. agriculture and Cuba.

The National Corn Growers Association tapped Mr. Linder as its
representative for the trip because he is the chairman of its trade,
policy, and biotechnology committee.

About 40 percent of Ohio’s $2.2 billion corn crop is shipped out of
state, and the more markets that corn can go to, the better it is for
farmers, said Tadd Nicholson, executive director of the Ohio Corn and
Wheat Growers Association.

Cuba is an ideal market, just 90 miles off the tip of Florida at the
mouth of the Gulf of Mexico.

Farmer Diogenes Cheveco, 73, picks beans on unused government land
that farmers are allowed to use to grow food and raise livestock, on the
outskirts of Havana.
A lot of Ohio’s corn and soybeans already move down the Mississippi
River to southern seaports.

Some of the bounty already goes to Cuba.

For years, the United States has allowed food and medicine through the
embargo, but Cuba is forced to pay with cash because credit is not
allowed. That has pushed Cuba to look to South America for food imports
and has cut its consumption of U.S. corn by 75 percent since 2008, Mr.
Linder said.

Cuba is about the size of Pennsylvania, and at 11 million people, it is
as populous as Ohio.

The U.S. coalition sees unencumbered trade with Cuba as a means to
create jobs here and to help the people there.

“The people in Cuba need an economic lift,” Mr. Linder said.

The delegation from the United States numbered close to 100. The
Americans met with Cuban government officials, toured farms, and even
visited the Bay of Pigs, where a doomed U.S.-backed invasion force
landed in 1961.

Mr. Linder marveled at what was in the bay on the day he toured — a
high-tech, prototype fish farm funded by Norway. The project raises
cobia fish, which Mr. Linder believes would be welcome on the plates of
many Americans. The cobia are fed corn and soybeans from Canada, a fact
that galled Mr. Linder, given U.S. dominance in both commodities.

He also noted that Cuba is a good source of tropical fruit, coffee, and

“I just see opportunity,” he said.

Mr. Obama opened a few shallow channels by committing to diplomatic
talks, plans to re-establish an embassy in Havana, and enabling
Americans who visit Cuba to bring back as much as $400 worth of Cuban
goods. The next step is up to Congress.

Source: Cuba is the latest land of opportunity – Toledo Blade –

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