to Push U.S. Food in Cuba
By ANITA SNOW
.c The Associated Press
HAVANA (AP) - Cuban President Fidel Castro fed milk to a
buffalo calf from Minnesota and greeted Gov. Jesse Ventura and top
American food producers Thursday at a huge exhibition aimed at opening the
communist island to U.S. food sales.
The 76-year-old revolutionary leader signed a $10 million contract to buy U.S.
rice, cooking oil and soy from an Illinois-based company. He also quipped that
he had a deal for the new U.S. diplomat here, Interests Section Chief James
``If we don't pay, we'll give him $100 million,'' said Castro of Cason, who
warned exhibitors Wednesday night that Cuban doesn't pay its debts.
Displays at the U.S. Food and Agribusiness Exhibition, which began
Thursday in Havana, included pastries from Sara Lee Foods of Ohio, wines from
Washington state, Splash Tropical Drinks of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and cheese,
butter and margarine from Land O'Lakes, Inc., of Arden Hills, Minn.
Exhibition organizer Peter Nathan wished the 288 American exhibitors luck in
making new sales and invited them to ``take the message back home that the
Cuban market is a fertile area for American companies to do business.''
``We today open a new chapter in our relationship with Cuba,'' said G.
Allen Andreas, chairman and chief executive of Illinois-based agribusiness
giant Archer Daniels Midland, or ADM, lead sponsor of the show. ADM, the
world's largest producer of soybeans, corn, wheat and cocoa, has been
especially bullish about trying to open up the Cuban market to American food
Castro, who has ruled Cuba since 1959, did not speak at the
inauguration of the event, which Cuban officials hope will help strengthen
pressure to ease or eliminate four decades of American restrictions on trade
and travel with the Caribbean nation. Surrounded by his security men and
trailed by a clutch of photographers and cameramen, the Cuban leader tasted a
chocolate milk shake as he was led down the aisles of the exhibition hall.
``We favor free trade and normalization of travel between Cuba and the
United States,'' Pedro Alvarez, head of the Cuban food import firm Alimport,
told exposition participants.
President Bush, who counts on political support from Cuban exiles in south
Florida, says he will not allow any easing of restrictions until Cuba embraces
democratic and economic reforms. But a growing number of lawmakers from farm
states, including many Republicans, support legislative efforts to ease or
eliminate the restrictions.
U.S. lawmakers have been fiercely debating whether to ease the embargo and
rules barring most Americans from traveling to Cuba. Some have also made
attempts - thus far unsuccessful - to allow for American financing of food
The exhibitors came from 33 U.S. states, with Florida having the most
exhibiters with 32, followed by Illinois with 21.
Castro on Thursday signed the first contract, for Alimport to buy $10
million in rice, cooking oil and soy from ADM.
He also signed contracts for Alimport to buy $10,000 of red apples from Bowman
Apple Products of Virginia, and another for an unspecified value of shipping
services from Crowley Liner Services of Jacksonville, Fla., which has
transported much of the American food here in recent months.
Cuban officials say they intend to keep buying American food with
cash, but could buy even more if they could get U.S. financing for those
A U.S. law that took effect in 2000 allows for direct commercial sales of
American food and other agricultural products to Cuba on a cash basis. It's an
exception to the 40-year trade embargo against the island.
Cason told American exhibitors Wednesday night that they should not support
moves to allow U.S. financing for the deals, saying that the island nation is
a ``deadbeat'' when it comes to paying its debts.
``I think it's great to sell eggs for cash, but let's not leave U.S.
taxpayers with a big giant goose egg,'' Cason told reporters at a Havana
He estimated the communist-run island's current foreign debt at $11 billion
and ``we don't want to be in that queue.''
Since November, when Cuba began taking advantage of the U.S. law, it has
purchased more than $140 million worth of American food, including rice,
wheat, beans, peas, pork lard, apples, and some brand name packaged products.
Alvarez said Cuba has made all its payments on time.