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Florida cattle could graze on Cuban soil

Florida cattle could graze on Cuban soil
U.S. businessman Dee Cross wants to help modernize small farmers’
operations in Cuba.
By Donna Gehrke-White
Sun Sentinel

Nonprofit wants to ship Florida cattle to Cuba
Cuba is trying to re-start its cattle production, now operating at a
sixth of its former size
As the founder of an aircraft charter company, Dee Cross has helped get
supplies to countries devastated by earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes.

Now he wants to get Florida cattle to Cuba.

Cross wants to help build the island’s agriculture industry under new
U.S. regulations that authorize certain economic and humanitarian
exchanges between the two countries.

His nonprofit, called Cuba/U.S. Agriculture Co-op, is one of the first
businesses to open an account for Cuban transactions through Stonegate
Bank of Pompano Beach, the only U.S. bank authorized to handle the business.

Stonegate last month signed the first U.S. correspondent banking deal
with a Cuban bank in half a century. Stonegate CEO Dave Seleski was in
Havana on Friday as Secretary of State John Kerry formally reopened the
U.S. embassy after 54 years.

Implementing the agreement between Stonegate and Banco Internacional de
Comercio will be a slow process. Both banks are proceeding cautiously.
But Cross is patient. He doesn’t want anything to interfere with his
dream of shipping cattle and farm equipment to help small farmers on the
island.

“I really want to help,” said Cross, 67, a long-time rancher and owner
of International Charter Brokers, an airline charter company in New
Mexico that has flown relief supplies after U.S. hurricanes, the 2004
Indonesian tsunami and the 2010 Haitian earthquake. “I’ve always admired
the Cuban people. I would like to support them.”

Cross plays to buy hardy Florida cattle that are suitable for a
subtropical climate.

He figures he would save on shipping because the cattle would be near a
South Florida port where they would be put on a boat to Cuba.

He also hopes U.S. manufacturers will donate farm equipment that the
nonprofit plans to loan or lease until farmers can afford to buy their
own. Much of the farm equipment on the island is nearly a century old,
he said.

Cross said he can’t ask for donations from the companies or from
individuals until he gets approval from both countries to operate his
nonprofit.

The paperwork is almost complete, he said in a series of telephone
interviews. But it’s anyone’s guess when the Cuban government will act,
he said.

Once he gets approval from the Cuban government, then he must go through
U.S. bureaucracy. “You have to be careful of U.S. law,” Cross said.

His plans seem to be coming at a good time. The Cuban government has
been working to resurrect its cattle industry, which is operating at
only about a sixth of its pre-revolution level, said John Parke Wright
IV, who has set up a cattle breeding program on the island using
champion bulls from Florida and Texas. Wright has own plans to bring
into Cuba up to 100,000 head of cattle from Florida, Georgia, Alabama
and Texas over the next five years.

“Cuba is blessed with some of the best pasture land,” said Wright, who
has talked with the Cuban government about leasing a 15,000-acre ranch
expropriated from the Tampa company Lykes Brothers. Wright is the
great-great-grandson of patriarch Dr. H.T. Lykes.

Wright praised Cross’ plans to help Cuba’s small farmers and ranchers
modernize their operations to produce more crops, dairy products and
meat. But he warned, “It’s going to take a long time.”

Cross said he’s aware of the challenges. “They’re barely raising enough
for their own families,” he said. Cuba has hundreds of small farmers who
own their land and many could raise cattle herds — even if it is just a
few head, Cross suggested.

While he waits for the U.S. and Cuban governments to approve his
nonprofit, Cross is already in the process of opening an office in
Havana. He has two Cuban staffers who are contacting farmers and ranchers.

“We are also arranging our shipping methods by both ocean and air and
confirming animal health regulations and requirements at both ends,”
Cross said.

So far, Cross appears to be on the right track, said Augusto Maxwell, an
Akerman partner in Miami and chairman of the law firm’s Cuba Practice.

“He seems to be working within the system,” he said, and not violating
laws from either country. Current U.S. policy “seems to favor” Cross’
plans to ship U.S. cattle and equipment to Cuba, Maxwell said. But he
said it’s unclear whether Cuba will allow a nonprofit to work directly
with the independent farmers.

If approved, the nonprofit won’t have it easy, Maxwell suggested.

In the past, Cuban couldn’t afford the upkeep of U.S. herds, including
vaccinations, he said.

Cubans also couldn’t afford to buy what beef was available, said Charles
“Charlie” Lykes, president and CEO of Lykes Brothers in Tampa. “There
just wasn’t a market,” he said.

Still, Lykes said he was interested in Cross’ nonprofit. “I’d be
delighted if there are other opportunities” to sell cattle in Cuba, he said.

Staff Writer Doreen Hemlock contributed to this report.

dgehrke@tribpub.com or Twitter @donnagehrke

Source: Nonprofit proposes to send Florida cattle, equipment to Cuban
farmers – Sun Sentinel –
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/fl-stonegate-cuba-nonprofit-20150814-story.html

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