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Protesters want sales of food and medicine allowed

Delta farmers join clamor to end Cuban trade embargo

yazoo city — Lloyd Moore, executive director of the Mississippi Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association, testified recently before the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade for Cuba that the embargo that prevents sales of rice and other food products to Cuba is hurting farmers in the Delta.

Moore joined representatives from diverse groups representing industries and churches in urging Congress to allow the sale of food and medicine to Cuba. Moore and Hayes Dent, legislative aide to Governor Kirk Fordice, are on the executive committee of the Americans For Humanitarian Trade with Cuba.

The coalition group supporters include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, industry groups such as Archer Daniels Midland Company, and Hollywood figures such as Francis Ford Coppola and Oliver Stone.

Moore, who is executive vice president of Trident South Corporation in Yazoo City, said people in Cuba who need the life-sustaining food produced in the Mississippi Delta should have the right to buy it.

“Cuba is a market that some people in other parts of the country might say is insignificant,” Moore said in testimony before Congress.

“But to farmers in Mississippi, Cuba represents a real economic opportunity that could raise the quality of life significantly for Mississippi Delta farmers.”

Moore said rice is an increasingly important crop in his area, and competition for markets is fierce. He said farmers are being asked to accept cuts in farming subsidies by the year 2002, and need a more even playing field in world markets in order to compete.

“We are being asked to change with the times, and we are,” Moore said. “That is why, in the Mississippi Delta, our new philosophy is ‘rooted locally, working globally.’ To keep our loyal and hard-working labor force going, we must continue to explore new market opportunities worldwide.

“Trade with Cuba would improve the quality of life for our communities by giving us the economic ability to educate our children and make a better future for ourselves.”

Moore said the freedom to sell rice to Cuba could mean millions in annual exports for Mississippi and neighboring states at a time when farmers badly need such sales. Cuba currently imports $500 million worth of raw foodstuffs, and another $200 million in processed food.

Prior to the trade embargo of Cuba in 1963, Cuba was the largest single importer of U.S. rice. Cuba’s share of U.S. exports ranged from 17% to 51% prior to the embargo. Since the embargo, Cuba’s annual imports have averaged about 300,000 metric tons, with most of that imported from Thailand, China and Vietnam.

Representatives of the U.S. rice industry believe that if the embargo was lifted, Cuba would again become a significant market for U.S. rice producers. Rice industry spokesmen said the U.S. trade sanctions against Cuba allow countries like Thailand and Vietnam to gain major competitive advantages over the U.S. rice industry.

Moore said it makes more sense to sell rice to Cuba rather than not allow sales, but give the country foreign aid.

“Using taxpayer dollars to send more aid to Cuba when Cubans stand ready to pay an honest price is an affront to our communities,” Moore said. “We should not be taking U.S. citizens off welfare and trying to put Cubans on. We shouldn’t be taking subsidies away from American farmers and be talking about subsidizing the Cubans.

“As a representative of thousands of Mississippi Delta farmers, I make an appeal based on good Christian principles and good common sense: let’s stop wasting everyone’s time adding more bureaucratic layers to an already faltering system. Let’s sell Cubans the food and medicine they need for their own good, and for our own.”

Moore said he is encouraged that President Clinton has come out in favor of allowing food and medicine sales to Cuba, and feels momentum is swinging towards lifting the embargo.

Sylvia Wilhelm, executive director of the Cuban Committee for Democracy, said the embargo hasn’t worked to achieve its desired objectives. She said most Cuban Americans believe the embargo against food and medicine imports should be eliminated.

“Many Cuban Americans not only support food and medical sales because it’s the right thing to do but because they believe it will undermine the excuse the Cuban government has always used — to blame all of Cuba’s problems on the embargo,” Wilhelm said. “Isn’t it time to make the Castro government accountable for hardships in Cuba? The Cuban-American community is looking for other initiatives to deal with Cuba. The once-acceptable rhetoric of revenge is now a rhetoric of reconciliation.”

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