House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) released a letter Thursday from more than 70 pro-democracy Cuban leaders encouraging the passage of H.R. 4645, a bill strongly supported by NAWG that would loosen agricultural trade and travel restrictions against the island nation.
The letter described those signing onto it as “Cuban citizens…political prisoners, independent librarians, bloggers, independent journalists, magazine editors, clerics, intellectuals, artists, members of civil society and of political organizations.”
“We share the opinion that the isolation of the people of Cuba benefits the most inflexible interests of its government, while any opening serves to inform and empower the Cuban people and helps to further strengthen our civil society,” the writers said in part. “We are sure that isolation does not foster relationships of respect and support for people and groups around the world who are in favor of democratic changes in Cuba.”
Peterson, Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and 32 additional original co-sponsors introduced the bill, commonly known as the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, in February after a number of months of work from Members and pro-trade groups like NAWG to gather support for the measure. Extensive work has gone into consolidating further support for the measure since introduction; the bill now has 56 co-sponsors.
In a press release about the letter, Peterson said that the statement was “a strong indication that people who oppose this bill are not speaking on behalf of the Cuban people, regardless of what they say.” He also asked a common question among those who believe trade with Cuba should be appropriately liberalized: “Who are we helping by continuing policy that has been in place for 50 years and has yet to change anything?”
Since passage of the 2000 Trade Sanctions and Reform Act, U.S. farmers have seen $4 billion in sales into the Cuban market, but market potential in Cuba is far from maximized due to the trade restrictions.
NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates, the industry’s export market development organization, have long supported on both economic and humanitarian grounds any effort to ease trade restrictions with Cuba, which cost the U.S. wheat industry an estimated $40 million per year.
More resources on the effort to ease trade restrictions with Cuba are at www.wheatworld.org/trade.
A copy of the Cuban citizens’ letter is at http://agriculture.house.gov/inside/Legislation/111/CubaCivilSocietyletter.pdf.