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DeLauro urges lifting Cuban trade ban

DeLauro urges lifting Cuban trade ban
By Peter Urban
Staff writer
Updated: 12/25/2008 11:05:20 PM EST

WASHINGTON — An early goal for the next Congress should be to lift all
travel and agricultural trade restrictions with Cuba, according to U.S.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro.

DeLauro, D-3, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on
, said that lifting these longstanding embargos could bring a
new dynamic to more than four decades of failed diplomacy with the
island nation.

"It's now been 10 U.S. presidents who have overseen an that
continues to fail at its intended purpose of changing the government and
the economic in Cuba," DeLauro said Tuesday. "In fact,
[-elect Barack] Obama campaigned on a commitment to allow
unlimited Cuban-American family travel and remittances to Cuba to engage
in a strong diplomacy with a post-Fidel government."

As president, Obama would have the authority to ease restrictions on
travel and agricultural trade, but Congress would have to act to remove
all agricultural trade barriers or to allow unlimited travel by all
Americans to Cuba.

The U.S. International Trade Commission last year issued a report
finding that the U.S. portion of Cuba's agricultural fish and forest
imports would rise from between one-third to between one-half and
two-thirds if those trade restrictions were lifted.

"I believe that lifting all of the agriculture trade restrictions would
help American agriculture, farm equipment businesses, and help with
public in Cuba," DeLauro said. "I think it's
smart. It's important. And I do believe we are in a new environment, a
new day and we can begin to move on some of those issues."

As for travel, DeLauro said that such "people-to-people interaction"
could "change the dynamic of Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations." DeLauro
traveled to Cuba last year to attend an agriculture trade show along
with representatives from more than 100 U.S. companies.

Although the U.S. embargo prohibits most Americans from visiting Cuba
and prevents most trade between the two nations, the sale of some
medical and agricultural products has been allowed since 2001. The
United States sold about $340 million in agricultural products to Cuba
last year.

The USA Federation supports removing trade and travel restrictions
with Cuba. American growers saw their sale of rice to Cuba plummet after
the Bush administration required advance cash purchases. Sales dropped
from a 2004 high of 177,000 metric tons to about 15,000 metric tons this
year. The industry believes it could sell as much as 500,000 metric tons
to Cuba if all the restrictions were lifted.

Carlos A. Saladrigas, vice chairman of Premier American Bank in Miami
and the co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group, was pessimistic that
Congress would lift the bans quickly.

"It's going to be very difficult to get anything done in the legislature
unless we see some signals from Cuba that they really mean to come to
the table. And that's where I am very much of a pessimist because I
really believe that the embargo has been incredibly useful to the
regime. It has served as a significant source of legitimacy both
external and internal for the regime. And I just don't know that they're
ready to see it be let go," he said.

Instead, Saladrigas believes that it will be up to Obama to make the

"There's an awful lot of leeway that the president has at his discretion
to change things. Pretty much, almost everything except a few basic
things like absolute tourist travel and some other things.

But he has an awful lot of discretion," Saladrigas said.

Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the
Americas, said that if Obama lifts the ban on travel for Cuban-Americans
it could serve as a catalyst for further congressional action.

"Once the president lifts the ban on travel for Cuban-Americans, then
the rationale for the rest of it just no longer makes sense. And
Congress knows that," she said.

DeLauro said she is somewhat optimistic given the growing number of
interest groups that support more open relations with Cuba beyond the
religious organizations that have always favored it.

This policy has had the support of a number of interests in the past,
DeLauro said, adding that she thinks there's more activity,
particularly, with business interests and the travel industry.

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