Jay Sjerven

President Donald Trump on June 16 reversed some key initiatives to improve relations with Cuba ordered by President Barack Obama in 2014. Food and agriculture companies and organizations that had cheered President Obama’s outreach to Cuba as well as farm state members of Congress who favor the complete lifting of the 55-year-old embargo on that nation to stimulate trade voiced disapproval of President Trump’s retreat from engagement with the government and people of Cuba.

President Trump ordered the end of self-directed, individual travel to Cuba, which surged after President Obama’s outreach to Cuba. Once again, travel to Cuba for non-academic educational purposes will be limited to U.S. government-approved group travel.

President Trump’s order also forbids American companies and individuals from conducting business with entities affiliated with the Cuban military and intelligence services. Major economic entities in Cuba are controlled by the government. The Cuban military controls companies that loom large in the Cuban economy.

Alimport, the Cuban government-owned entity that has exclusive purview over the purchase of agricultural products from the United States, is not part of the military network. At the same time, companies and agencies associated with the military do manage facilities that may facilitate U.S.-Cuba trade such as the new Port of Mariel.

U.S. and Cuba
Travel to Cuba for non-academic educational purposes will be limited to U.S. government-approved group travel.

The Department of State will publish a list of Cuban entities with which Americans will be prohibited from doing business.

The change in the U.S.-Cuba policy did not go so far as to downgrade diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. The American embassy in Havana will remain open, and Cuba will maintain its embassy in Washington.

Senator John Boozman of Arkansas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry’s Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management and Trade, and Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, ranking member of the subcommittee, stated their opposition to the president’s order.

“I share the president’s desire to see democracy take hold in Cuba, as well as his commitment to ending human rights abuses carried out by the Castro regime,” Mr. Boozman said. “However, a return to embargo-like policies is the wrong approach. We ran this play over and over again for 50 years, and the results have not changed.”

Senator Heidi Heitkamp said, “This administration’s actions roll back some of the progress our country has made in opening up Cuba to trade. After a 50-year embargo that did little to change Cuba, it’s time for a new approach, an approach that can benefit North Dakota farmers while also bringing change to Cuba.”

Representative Rick Crawford of Arkansas, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, said, “I strongly oppose President Trump’s decision to reinstate a failed, outdated and isolationist posture toward Cuba. This policy change is not just a missed opportunity for rural America, which would greatly benefit from increased access to the island’s $2 billion agricultural imports market. This policy shift also poses an unjustifiable risk to our national security, as further U.S. disengagement opens up opportunities for countries like Iran, Russia, North Korea and China to gain influence on an island 90 miles off our coast.”

A statement issued by the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (U.S.A.C.C.), whose members include nearly all major farm and agricultural commodity organizations as well as several major agribusiness corporations, said, “While the U.S.A.C.C. is disappointed in the decision to undo recent federal initiatives that lay the groundwork for normalizing trade relations with Cuba, we will continue to work with the administration and Congress to repeal trade restrictions that currently work against the economic interests of both nations.

“U.S.A.C.C. remains confident that the United States will eventually establish normal relations with Cuba. According to research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, normalizing trade relations with Cuba could increase agriculture exports by $1 billion per year, compared with about $195 million in 2016. Lifting the embargo would provide extensive opportunities for U.S. producers, processors and distributors to increase exports of these goods, enter business relationships on the island and generate new economic benefits for both countries.”