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Prying open trade between Cuba, U.S.

Posted: Thursday, June 22, 2000

The following editorial appeared in today's edition of the Los Angeles Times:

The American Farm Bureau estimates that sales of U.S. grains and medicine to Cuba could bring in $1 billion a year. Were it not for the 1961 U.S. trade embargo against Fidel Castro's Communist state, the Straits of Florida would have become a highway of commerce long ago. The boycott made political sense in the 1960s, but Castro no longer is a threat. He remains in power but before long will join his erstwhile sponsor, the Soviet Union, on the dark pages of history.

Now comes a bill that would begin to reopen the trade route to Cuba. It's sponsored by Rep. George R. Nethercutt Jr., R-Wash., and its chances in the House are considered good. With the increasing prospects of trade with such antagonist countries as Iran, Sudan, Libya and North Korea - and with last month's House vote to normalize trade relations with China - support for a Cuban connection makes sense. Not only would American farmers benefit, but the U.S. presence in Cuba, even if it were sheltered on the docks, could put some positive light on the relationship.

The Nethercutt bill would allow U.S. exporters to sell their goods to Cubans in the private and public sectors, but Cold War winds still blow in the Senate. The Republican leadership is aiming to derail the bill if it reaches the upper chamber. Trent Lott, D-Miss., the Senate majority leader, says ``it is very easy to see the distinction'' between trade with Communist China and Cuba. We don't think so. The reason the bill faces trouble in Congress is, as Rep. Benny G. Thompson, D-Miss., put it, because U.S. policy toward Cuba is ``driven by a few people in south Florida.'' He's right. The Cuban exile lobby has determined Washington's Cuba policy for the past 40 years.

Nethercutt's bill may not change U.S. policy, but it could begin a historic shift. Castro will disappear in time, but Cuba will remain just 90 miles from U.S. shores. To hesitate in gaining a foothold now would be foolish.



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