Wednesday, July 04, 2007

House eases rules on U.S. agriculture sales to Cuba

Miami Herald
Posted on Thu, Jun. 28, 2007
House eases rules on U.S. ag sales to Cuba
BY PABLO BACHELET
The House passed on Thursday an amendment that rolls back Bush administration restrictions on U.S. agricultural exporters to Cuba.

The amendment, offered by Kansas Republican Rep. Jerry Moran, was approved by a voice vote. It reverses a Bush administration view that Cuba has to pay in advance before agricultural goods are shipped to the island.

The approval came after Reps. Moran, New York Democrat Jose Serrano and Miami Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart debated Cuba's ability to pay its creditors and whether more U.S. trade with Cuba would usher democratic reforms to the island.

The passage marks a rare victory for opponents of U.S. policy on Cuba, who have suffered a string of defeats since 2005, when some members of Congress have unsuccessfully attempted to overturn President Bush's gradual tightening of sanctions against the island on everything from travel to food exports.

But the victory was tempered by the fact that for the first time in nearly a decade, opponents of the travel restrictions to Cuba were unable to present any amendments to the financial services spending bill on technical grounds.

In 2005, the Bush administration interpreted a 2000 law that allows U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba as requiring payment from Havana before the goods are shipped to the island and not upon reception. This apparently minor change made it more expensive for Havana to purchase U.S. goods like rice and chicken.

Moran called his amendment a ''rather modest modification'' in U.S. Cuba policy and said agricultural exports had fallen since 2005 because of the new rule.

Diaz-Balart said the new rule protected U.S. exporters from Cuba's ''abysmal'' record of defaulting on its payments.

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