reighter departs on two-day voyage egging on embargo debate
NEW ORLEANS — A freighter loaded with corn left for Cuba on Friday, the first commercial U.S. shipment of food to the communist nation since 1963.
The two-day voyage to Havana sparked fierce debate on the docks over the future of the decades-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
Critics of Cuban leader Fidel Castro warned that the shipment may lead to the lifting of the embargo. Others, like Illinois Gov. George Ryan, welcomed the opportunity for increased trade between the two nations.
“This is a bridge we need to build,” Ryan said. “Corn is forming a bridge today that we need to build with the people of Cuba.”
Last year, Congress passed a law allowing U.S. companies to sell products to Cuba on a humanitarian basis. Archer Daniels Midland and other food processors have since signed contracts to supply more than $14 million worth of chicken, corn, wheat, soybean meal, rice and other foods.
The Cuban government said the 24,000 metric tons of corn aboard the first freighter will be used to replenish reserves lost when Hurricane Michelle struck Nov. 4, destroying crops and thousands of homes. The United Nations said Cuba could face food shortages in the next few months.
George Fowler III, general counsel of the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation, said his group favors humanitarian shipments. But he said unrestricted trade with Cuba will put money in Castro’s pocket to export revolution.
“Cuba is a terrorist nation,” Fowler said. “Castro has been at the center of terrorist activity.”
The first shipment includes corn from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.
American farmers said they could send tons of agricultural products to Cuba if the embargo were lifted.
Four decades of trade sanctions against Cuba “have done nothing more than hand trade with Cuba to our foreign competitors,” said Ron Warfield, president of the Illinois Farm Bureau Association.