George W. Bush is trying to have it both ways in Cuba. Even as he has tightened the restrictions on travel for Cuban Americans with family on the island, American agribusiness has profited from selling agricultural goods to Fidel Castro’s government.
Warren Staley is the chairman and chief executive officer of Cargill, Inc., an American company that has pioneered in food sales to Cuba. He has close ties with George W. Bush’s administration and is a major supporter of Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign.
When American agribusiness struck the first deals for food sales to the Cuban import company Alimport, Cargill was one of just four companies to sell U.S. farm products to Fidel Castro. Since that deal, in late 2001, Cargill has sold over 500,000 metric tons of food products to the Cuban state for tens of millions of dollars. In the first half of 2004 alone, Cargill grossed over $20 million in sales to Cuba.
Cargill would like to increase that figure. In an interview with the Associated Press for a Dec. 18, 2003 article, Cargill commercial sales manager Thomas Rahn said, “Cargill would be interested in increasing its relations (with Cuba), including investment.” Rahn has also said, at a trade conference in Havana in December 2003, that “doing business with Cuba will benefit U.S. producers and the Cuban people.” Cargill does not share the opinion, held by some influential Cuban Americans and catered to in Bush administration rhetoric, that doing business with Fidel Castro supports a repressive regime and is therefore morally indefensible.
Cargill upper management has close ties to the Bush administration. Cargill CEO Warren Staley has personally donated the maximum legal contribution, $2,000, to Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign. More importantly, Staley is part of an elite group of Bush fundraisers called “Rangers.” Campaign “Rangers” are individuals personally responsible for raising at least $200,000 in campaign funds for Bush’s presidential bid in 2004. According to a list on Bush’s Web site, Staley is one of 545 Rangers from across the country.
The friendly relationship between Staley and Bush is reciprocal. On Feb. 26, 2003, Bush appointed Staley to serve on the President’s Export Council (PEC). The PEC advises the president on U.S. trade and expanding U.S. exports. On becoming a council member, Staley said that he is “honored to represent U.S. food and agricultural interests as we continue our work of opening markets abroad for U.S. goods.”
In July of 2004, Bush further restricted travel to Cuba by Cuban Americans, who can now visit only immediate family members and only once ever three years. Furthermore, in an attempt to keep U.S. currency out of the Cuban economy, Bush tightened the rules on remittances, such that Cuban Americans can now send money only to immediate family members.
The administration’s policy is hypocritical. On August 24, the Houston Chronicle reported that, in the first half of 2004, American food companies grossed $243 million in food sales to Cuba. Why should large companies like Cargill be able to sell millions of dollars of food to Castro’s government while recent Cuban immigrants with family still in Cuba cannot help their suffering friends and relatives? Person-to-person contact with Cuba is an invaluable source of information, economic aid and sanity during difficult times for Cubans. Cuban Americans with family back home have the largest stake in the welfare of Cuba and should have the most rights to travel and send money according to their own judgment.
Selective enforcement of the embargo is not surprising. The Republicans are beholden to the agribusiness lobby. According to the watchdog group OpenSecrets.org, in the 2003-2004 election cycle, Cargill, its political action committee, and its owners and employees donated $131,000 to political parties. Ninety-one percent of those funds went to the Republicans. Overall, in 2003-2004, agribusiness has given $29,689,774 in campaign contributions to both parties, with Republicans receiving 71 percent.
Despite the money, policymakers should show more consistency in their policies. If the embargo has any chance of cracking Castro, it will be only under the most austere economic conditions, with no food being sold to Cuba. A partially enforced embargo isolates Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straights without achieving any political changes. Recent immigrants should not bear the full weight of the embargo while Bush’s friends in agribusiness reach Castro through the back door. It is time for a more consistent and sensible policy.
Sam Taylor is a senior in Saybrook College.