The Miami Herald
Despite hassles, trade with Cuba goes
goods to Cuba is an arduous chore under
tight U.S. restrictions, but deals continue
to be made with Havana.
By Martha Brannigan, [email protected]
Miami Herald, May 15, 2007.
Fidel Castro used to fete visiting American
business delegations with mojitos at receptions
in Havana. His brother Raúl has shunned
that role since assuming power from the
ailing Cuban dictator last summer, instead
letting officials such as National Assembly
President Ricardo Alarcón do the
Initial exuberance that Raúl Castro's
transition to power would spur warmer political
and economic relations with the United States
has waned as the Bush administration has
held its hard line. But despite the headaches
that come with exporting agricultural and
food products to Cuba, a steady parade of
hopeful U.S. salespeople keeps slogging
In March, a Nebraska entourage led by Gov.
Dave Heineman went to tout corn and soybeans,
and Delaware -- on its first trade visit
-- offered up poultry and winter wheat.
In April, Idaho's Gov. C.L. Butch Otter
led a 35-member delegation there to hawk
peas, lentils and pork.
Raúl Castro's ascent to power ''hasn't
changed things at all either way'' with
respect to U.S. trade, says Kirby Jones,
president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association.
"It's totally seamless.''
Last year, U.S. exports to Cuba dipped
to $340.4 million from $350.2 million in
2005. By most accounts, exports of agricultural
goods to Cuba will remain a fraction of
what they could be as long as U.S. restrictions
remain and Cuba has friends such as China
that can help fill in its most severe food
''As long as Venezuela and China prop up
Cuba economically, the island will make
few reforms to reach out to the U.S., because
it doesn't have to,'' said John S. Kavulich
II, senior policy advisor to the U.S.-Cuba
Trade and Economic Council. "Cuba wants
more than anything else to be relevant in
U.S. political discourse. Everything about
the relationship between the two countries
The narrow trade now permitted stems from
the U.S. Trade Sanctions Reform and Export
Enhancement Act of 2000, which -- despite
the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba -- allows
sales of food and agricultural products
to the island. A separate measure permits
But in February 2005 the Bush administration
tightened its interpretation of the law,
requiring that Cuba pay cash for purchases
before they can leave U.S. ports -- an expensive
hurdle. In addition, Cuba can't wire funds
directly to U.S. banks; instead, it must
get a letter of credit from -- or wire funds
to -- a bank in a third country, typically
France or elsewhere in Europe.
''Cuba would buy more if it didn't have
to pay through a costly and time-consuming
process,'' said Phil Peters, a vice president
at the Lexington Institute, a policy research
group in Arlington, Va. "It's kind
of a crazy system. The trade is perfectly
legal, but we treat the payments as if it's
Another hurdle: U.S. businessmen must obtain
a license to travel to Cuba to negotiate
sales. The U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign
Assets Control sometimes denies licenses
without explanation, says Jones. "No
reasons are given, and it is common for
letters and telephone calls to go unanswered
-- sometimes for months.''
Such barriers are drawing heightened scrutiny
The International Trade Commission, at
the behest of the Senate Finance Committee,
is investigating the effects of U.S. trade
and travel restrictions on U.S. exports
of fish, forest and agriculture products
to Cuba. The ITC will issue a report June
The study comes as several bills are afoot
in Congress to lift or ease the embargo,
although the specter of President Bush's
expected veto has stymied past legislative
''The current policies hinder further economic
growth via trade with Cuba,'' Roger Johnson,
North Dakota's agriculture commissioner,
who has led five trade missions to Cuba
since 2002, told an ITC hearing on May 1.
U.S. sales of soybean products to Cuba
rose to $91 million during fiscal 2006,
from $40 million in fiscal 2002. But the
American Soybean Association says the United
States is at risk of losing business.
''While countries like Venezuela, Brazil
and Canada can trade freely with Cuba, the
U.S. industry must work through third-party
banks, apply for travel licenses and obtain
cash in advance -- all of which are impediments
to economic growth in Cuba and for the U.S.
soybean producers,'' Richard Ostlie, president
of the soybean trade group, said in a letter
to the ITC.
U.S. rice exports to Cuba rose to 157,744
metric tons during 2006, up 2.5 percent
from 153,855 metric tons a year earlier.
But American rice producers say that's a
fraction of the business they could do with
Cuba if the restrictions were lifted.
Cuba, with 11.4 million people, is a natural
market, a stone's throw away from the United
States. The USA Rice Federation, a trade
group based in Arlington, Va., said that
proximity allows cheaper transportation
and the nimbleness of shipping smaller quantities,
cutting storage costs. And many Cubans prefer
the quality of U.S. rice.
Still, Cuba buys rice from countries like
Vietnam, in part because current restrictions
make the United States an ''unreliable''
supplier, said David Coia, a spokesman for
the rice group, "and we can't offer
credit like China or Vietnam or almost any
Kavulich said Cuba uses food contracts
to pressure U.S. firms to support an easing
of trade sanctions. ''It started in '03.
Cubans started tying political activism
with the amount of money companies may see
from Cuba,'' he said.
''Cuba's purchases from the U.S. are driven
at least as much by politics as economics,''
said William A. Messina, Jr. an agricultural
economist at the University of Florida.
Currently Cuba seems to be making an effort
to reach out to U.S. exporters: Alimport,
its food import agency, will host a big
trade expo with U.S. exporters in Havana
It will be the first big event targeting
U.S. firms since the United States tightened
restrictions two years ago. Some experts
speculate Cuba may feel a bit encouraged
by the Democratic Congress in the United
Neither Alimport's president Pedro Alvarez
Borrego nor the Cuban Interests Section
in Washington returned phone calls seeking
But in an invitation letter to the American
agricultural community, Alvarez Borrego
said the agency expects to nail down ''$100
million to $150 million'' in contracts,
including freight, to help meet demand for
the second half of 2007. And the letter
said: "The U.S. providers represented
in person at the event with competitive
bids will stand the highest chance to be
awarded supply contracts.''
'Change will come when the man dies'
Wilfredo Cancio Isla, El
Nuevo Herald, May 15, 2007.
audio Audio | Gorki Aguila's 'Parodia del
audio Audio | Gorki Aguila's 'El Comandante'
(Warning: Contains explicit language)
For punk rocker Gorki Aguila, nothing
has changed in Cuba since Fidel Castro ceded
power to his brother nine months ago.
''Tyranny is present . . . even if he doesn't
make a public appearance,'' said the 38-year-old.
His band, Porno For Ricardo, is the leading
exponent of underground music, a flourishing
movement today in a country where 1.5 million
people are too young to remember the better
times before the economy imploded with the
end of Soviet subsidies in 1991.
The band's latest CD, whose title roughly
translates as ''I don't like politics, but
she likes me, comrade,'' contains several
profanity-laced critical songs, including
one titled El Comandante.
The band has been blackballed by the government,
and Aguila has received several police summonses
for ''interviews.'' In 2003, he was arrested
on drug charges -- entrapment, he says --
and served two years in prison. Just last
week, authorities forbade his band to practice
at his apartment.
But he says he will not leave Cuba, and
hopes for a peaceful transition to democracy.
''Change will come when the man dies and
Number Two [Raúl] retires gradually,
to allow the installation of state capitalism,''
Neither Fidel has gone nor Raul arrived'
Wilfredo Cancio Isla, El
Nuevo Herald, Posted on Wed, May. 16, 2007.
Audio | Interview with Héctor Palacios
Dissident Héctor Palacios was in
a Cuban military hospital when Fidel Castro
ceded power in July, and when the ailing
leader was a no-show at his birthday celebration
After the first announcement ''the military
doctors looked nervous and impatient,''
said Palacios, 63. "But the most important
thing happened later on.''
''When those people got over the psychological
fixation they had about Fidel Castro's immortality
and saw that it was possible to live without
him, I saw nurses, doctors and hospital
personnel sighing with relief when the man
didn't show up on Dec. 2,'' he added.
Palacios, one of the 75 dissidents sentenced
to long prison terms during the so-called
Black Spring of 2003, was in a security
wing of a military hospital. He was freed
Dec. 6 because of his health problems.
He defines Cuba today as a nation halted
in time: "Neither Fidel has gone nor
[brother] Raúl has arrived, and this
has created a black hole that has absorbed
the dreams of the new generations.''
But he believes that change will come soon,
"not within the next 24 hours, but
faster than most people imagine. The day
Fidel Castro dies, 80 percent of the regime's
potential will die . . . and the transformations
Why Chávez, Castro bash U.S.
By David Adams, St. Petersburg
Times. May 15, 2007.
U.S. foreign policy has always gotten its
fair share of abuse from Latin America.
Some of it -- the Bay of Pigs, Iran-Contra
and support for a litany of dictators --
may be well deserved.
But the latest controversy is perhaps harder
to fathom: President Bush's support for
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez
and Cuba's ailing leader, Fidel Castro,
have repeatedly attacked Bush's proposal
to promote the hemisphere-wide production
of ethanol from crops such as corn and sugar.
They decry the idea as ''crazy,'' ''sinister,''
''tragic'' and even a threat to the human
''Taking corn away from people and the
food chain to feed automobiles'' is ''a
terrible thing,'' Chávez said recently.
Biofuels as a substitute for gasoline is
fast becoming a major global issue, dubbed
the ''food vs. fuel'' debate. But in Latin
America, it carries with it heavy political
overtones due to Chávez's rising
regional influence at the helm of a petroleum
''Chávez wants to use his oil to
be more relied upon politically,'' said
Peter Sommer, commercial manager for Latin
America exploration and production with
Chevron Corp. "He wants everyone to
be indebted to him so he can be crowned
king of Latin America.''
Chávez's petro-diplomacy has earned
him extraordinary influence in some countries,
principally Bolivia and Ecuador. But U.S.
officials deny Bush's biofuels policy is
designed to counter Chávez's influence.
''The U.S. and Brazil are both ethanol
powers. It's not something we came up with
in the last couple of years,'' said Matt
McManus, a senior State Department official
handling energy issues.
McManus said the key issue driving U.S.
policy was national security. ''We are the
most oil dependent country in the world,''
he said. "That's why ethanol is so
Oil imports are responsible for 36 percent
of the U.S. trade deficit, more than $60
billion a month, McManus said, and that
share is rising due to the high price of
oil. Because some 80 percent of the world's
oil reserves are in the hands of state oil
companies, the United States is vulnerable
to geopolitical threats. ''We have limited
access to those reserves,'' he said.
Still, Bush administration officials are
quick to recognize the political spinoff
from biofuels in Latin America, at a time
when U.S. influence there has waned.
Ethanol and its sister, biodiesel (made
with various seed or plant oils), can create
thousands of new jobs stimulating rural
development throughout the hemisphere, they
say. Latin America's poor, who are fertile
recruiting ground for anti-American populists,
might be encouraged to rethink their attitude
Until recently, biofuels had been a word
barely heard, let alone comprehended, in
the hemisphere. The exception is Brazil,
which has spent decades quietly developing
a huge ethanol industry.
In his January State of the Union address,
Bush surprised experts by announcing that
he wanted to reduce America's dependence
on foreign oil by increasing consumption
of biofuels to 35 billion gallons by 2017.
It took a while for the significance of
Bush's new ''passion'' to sink in with his
perennial detractors. That changed quickly
when the White House announced that Bush
would travel to Brazil in early March to
sign a biofuels cooperation agreement with
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da
Silva, a lifelong leftist and political
ally of Castro.
Chávez and Castro framed the debate
as one between food security for poor nations
and energy security for the world's richest.
Most of the hostility was directed at the
U.S. method of making ethanol from corn,
a food staple.
In one of several articles published in
Cuba, Castro predicted three billion people
would die from hunger as a result.
Chávez argued that to fill up a
car with ethanol used the equivalent ''grains,
food and nutrients'' to feed seven people.
Ironically, only a few days later, Cuba
and Venezuela both announced plans to increase
their own ethanol programs, in collaboration
with Brazil, although Cuba has since abandoned
The debate reached a crescendo at a South
American energy summit in Venezuela last
month at which Chávez vowed to ''overthrow''
Bush's biofuels pact with Brazil, later
announcing his own plan to supply Latin
America and Caribbean countries with half-price
''Most of what Chávez says is empty
bluster,'' said David Rothkopf, an international
business consultant and former senior trade
official at the U.S. Commerce Department.
"It's ludicrous to think he can derail
the agreement with Brazil. It's not a choice
between ethanol and gasoline,''said Rothkopf,
the author of the 600-page A Blueprint for
Green Energy in the Americas.
Experts say ethanol should be seen as a
complement to gasoline, not as a threat
''Ethanol is getting blown all out of proportion,''
said Jorge Pinon, a former Latin American
oil executive with Amoco-BP now at the University
of Miami. "Ethanol is a contributor
to gasoline. It's not an alternative.''
Chávez's ideological approach to
biofuels is driven by domestic politics,
Pinon and others say. His anti-U.S. rhetoric
plays well at home, where he has spread
oil wealth among the poor and forced foreign
oil companies into less favorable contracts.
But Chávez appears to have met his
match in Lula. Brazil is proud of its sugar-based
ethanol program, which is four to five times
more efficient than using corn like the
Brazil needs the United States to create
a global biofuels market. Brazil is also
aware that the U.S. government is pouring
billions of dollars into technology to make
more efficient ''cellulosic ethanol'' from
In an opinion piece in the Washington Post
titled Our Biofuels Partnership, Lula defended
his alliance with Bush as good for the environment
and good for the economies of oil importing
''This is a recipe for increasing incomes,
creating jobs and alleviating poverty among
the many developing countries where biomass
crops are abundant,'' he wrote.
New CBS lineup has flavor of mojitos
By Glenn Garvin, [email protected]
May 16, 2007.
Calle 8 is coming to television. Cane,
a drama about a wealthy Cuban-American family
torn by fratricidal tensions as its sugar
and rum businesses are passed down to the
next generation, is part of the new fall
schedule released by CBS on Wednesday.
Set in Miami, the show has a powerhouse
Latino cast -- including Jimmy Smits, Rita
Moreno, Hector Elizondo, Nestor Carbonell
and Miami resident Paola Turbay -- and executive
producer Jonathan Prince promises scripts
''It's like The Godfather if Vito Corleone
had passed the family business to Michael,
but Sonny and Fredo were still alive and
pissed off about it,'' Prince told The Miami
The announcement about Cane came at a press
conference on the third day of the so-called
upfronts, the New York meetings in which
broadcast TV networks unveil their new shows
and schedules for advertisers and the media.
CBS also introduced new dramas about vampires,
wife-swappers and a seedy Nevada casino,
while canceling nuclear apocalypse drama
Jericho, crime drama Close To Home and Gen
Y sitcom The Class.
But the big news for South Florida, in
more ways than one, was Cane. Not only will
a good chunk of the show be shot here, it
will be the first network series to focus
on the evolution of the Cuban exile experience
over the past five decades. And Prince said
it will educate the rest of America about
everything from the Pedro Pan exodus of
children from Cuba to the tension between
those who left the island and those who
''It's not a documentary, it isn't on PBS,''
he said. "But it's a family drama dealing
with how families really act. There will
be a lot of scenes at the family dinner
table, and among the things they'll talk
about will be what happens when Fidel Castro
dies, who will take over, and if it's Raul,
what does that mean. That will be in the
show because those are some of the things
Cuban-Americans talk about in real life
Even the language will be authentic: The
show will sometimes use subtitles as characters
weave between English and Spanish.
Prince himself is neither a Hispanic nor
a Miamian -- he grew up in Los Angeles --
but another Cane executive producer, Cynthia
Cidre (she wrote the screenplay for the
1992 film Mambo Kings) was born in Cuba.
They were paired up on the project by CBS
programming chief Nina Tassler after Prince
-- who has produced several family dramas,
including AmericanDreams and Life Goes On
-- told her he was interested in doing one
about a well-to-do Hispanic family.
''I don't think TV has ever done a show
about an upscale Latino family,'' Prince
said. 'Latino families on television are
hardscrabble. We talked about making the
family Mexican, Venezuelan, even Guatemalan.
Then Nina Tassler told Cynthia, 'You're
Cuban, why aren't you writing about Cubans?'
In Cane, Smits will be the focal point
of an ensemble cast that plays a family
ridden with tensions and jealousies. As
patriarch Elizondo is dying, he chooses
his son-in-law (Smits) rather than one of
his own children (Carbonell and Turbay)
to run the family business.
''It's a serialized family drama with an
epic feel,'' Prince said. "By epic,
I mean the size and scope of Dallas in the
old days, or miniseries like Rich Man, Poor
Man and North & South. ''
The pilot episode of the series was shot
in March, with cast and crew working two
days in Miami. The producers plan to return
to South Florida on a schedule similar to
that of CSI: Miami, taping here about two
weeks out of every eight.
''We want to use a lot of Florida locations
-- South Beach, the Intracoastal, sugar
fields, all kinds of stuff,'' Prince said.
"We want the sky to look like a Florida
sky and the water to look like Florida water.
Florida's different -- we can't shoot the
Intracoastal in Long Beach. Well, I guess
we could, but it would look ridiculous.''
Along with the local scenery, Prince wants
to use local talent: He's talking to Gloria
and Emilio Estefan about working on the
show's soundtrack. Because one of the characters
will own a South Beach club, music will
play an important role in Cane.
In addition to Cane, CBS announced six
other new shows -- three dramas, a comedy,
a game show and a reality series called
Kid Nation in which 40 young people try
to create a new society in a New Mexican
The dramas include Moonlight, about a vampire
who falls in love with a mortal reporter;
Viva Laughlin, based on a hit British TV
series about a fly-by-night businessman
who opens a casino; and Swingtown, a mid-season
replacement series about sexual shenanigans
in a mid-1970s Chicago suburb.
The lone comedy is The Big Bang Theory,
in which two computer geeks try to improve
their love lives by seeking advice from
a hottie waitress played by Kaley Cuoco
of 8 Simple Rules.
For a network that has depended on a steady
diet of crime shows like CSI and Without
A Trace, the new dramas had an unusual edge.
''I don't think a lot of people thought
we would actually really first produce the
pilots and then actually put them on the
schedule,'' said programming chief Tassler.
"We wanted to stir things up, and that's
what we did.''