The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Obama's Changes in Cuba Policy a Key Step toward Opening up Trade with Cuba

Posted on April 14, 2009 at 11:21 AM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus commends President Obama, Congressmen Marion Berry and Vic Snyder, and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) for supporting changes in US policy toward Cuba. Yesterday President Obama eased travel and money transfers to Cuba, in a move supported by Berry, Snyder and Lincoln. The Delta Caucus has praised the efforts of Congressman Berry and Senator Lincoln for many years in their efforts to open up trade with Cuba, which would lead to a major increase in exports of rice, soybeans, poultry and other products raised in abundance in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and the rest of the Delta region.

While President Obama’s decision did not end the trade embargo, Members of Congress and many supporters of opening up trade to Cuba commended it as a step toward a new relationship that would have benefits for the Delta region. Lee Powell, Caucus director, and Caucus executive committee member Harvey Joe Sanner–president of the American Agriculture Movement and a farmer from Des Arc–have both traveled to Cuba in the past to confer with top-level Cuban officials about opening up trade, and both praised the responses of Congressman Berry, Senator Lincoln, and Congressman Snyder to Obama’s action.

Sanner was the first American farmer to meet with former President Fidel Castro about opening up farm trade to Cuba in the late 1980s. Powell met with high-level Cuban government official Ricardo Alarcon when he traveled to Cuba in the late 1980s to convey then-Congressman Bill Alexander’s support for ending the Cuban embargo. “Since the late 1980s, we have gained tremendous bipartisan momentum in favor of ending the embargo, and it is inevitable that we will be trading with Cuba some day soon. These positive actions will make that day come sooner,” Powell said.

Sanner said, “This is about selling rice, soybeans and other Delta products to Cuba to help out our troubled economy, and the Delta Caucus is tremendously appreciative of the leadership for so many years by Congressman Berry and Senator Lincoln to achieving that goal. This policy has been in place almost 50 years and has done nothing to undermine Castro’s regime–in fact it actually helps the Castro brothers because they can use the embargo as an excuse to explain to their people why their economy is so terrible.”

Powell said, “Let’s sell them Arkansas rice and soybeans and other US products, help our economy and at the same time deprive the Castros of using the embargo as a propaganda tool to the Cuban people. There has been a vast change in the politics of this issue since we first started working on it in the 1980s, when most people thought it was radical–today many business groups, Republicans as well as Democrats, and middle-of-the-road, Main Street-type people are all for helping our economy by exporting to Cuba.”

The White House announced Obama would allow Americans to make unlimited trips and money transfers to family members in Cuba and ease other restrictions to usher in a new era of openness toward the island nation ruled by communis

U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, said in a public statement that 50 years of U.S. policy toward Cuba have proven that unilateral sanctions are not effective.

Lifting travel restrictions signaled the beginning of groundwork toward long-term diplomacy and increased trade, Berry said.

“In this ailing economy, one of the first things we can do to provide some relief for our farmers and generate increased revenue for our country would be to lift the trade barriers between the U.S. and Cuba,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., told the Arkansas news bureau that she hoped Monday’s announcement would be followed by major steps toward eventually removing the Cuban embargo all together and normalizing relations with Cuba.

“The long-term benefits of engagement with Cuba offer better living conditions for the Cuban people, opportunities for Democratic influences inside Cuba and economic benefits to Americans,” Lincoln said.

“Lifting the Cuban embargo would also be an economic stimulus in itself to the thousands of companies currently cut off from trade with Cuba.”

U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock, was also quoted by the Arkansas news bureau as saying that the move was “just a baby step,” but one that was “clearly a step in the right direction.”

“There is so much more we can do that would be helpful both to the Cuban people and American national security,” Snyder said. “We need to have a robust economic relationship and we need to eliminate the restraints on Americans traveling to Cuba. Arkansas raises the products that Cubans want to buy — poultry, rice, soybeans. Cuba’s very interested in quality agricultural products from the United States.”

Administration officials said Obama is keeping the decades-old U.S. trade embargo, arguing that policy provides leverage to pressure the Castro regime to free all political prisoners as one step toward normalized relations with the U.S.

The efforts to change policy in Cuba have bipartisan support, as demonstrated by the position of Republican Congressman John Boozman, who said that as a co-sponsor of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act in the House he supported allowing all Americans the ability to travel to Cuba.

The Associated Press, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Arkansas news bureau and other sources reported that the administration also will begin issuing licenses to allow telecommunications and other companies to provide cell-phone, television and radio service, and to allow Americans to pay for such services for their relatives there. This step requires the participation of the Cuban government, since companies can’t operate there without its approval.

U.S. network providers will be permitted to establish fiber-optic links or satellite service for Cuba, and satellite television and radio companies can make the sales necessary to provide service there, the administration said. Wireless companies will be able to apply to establish cell-phone roaming agreements with providers in Cuba.

Last May, President George W. Bush announced a new policy that people living in the United States could include cell phones in gift parcels to Cubans. At the time, Bush aides said U.S. residents could pay for the cell service attached to phones they send.

Although American cell phones with service contracts from the U.S. work on some parts of the island, service is not always reliable and depends on the phones’ specifications.

Powell said “History has shown that the best way to undermine Communist and other authoritarian regimes is to penetrate their economy with free enterprise. Once the Soviet Union and eastern Europe started opening up their countries to the impact of free markets, it inevitably undermined their regimes and hastened the end of communism, and the same will happen in Cuba.”