In 1959, a 33 year-old Fidel Castro led a successful revolution, seizing control of Cuba and setting up the first Communist regime in the western hemisphere. The Cuba-U.S. relationship weakened further when in April of 1961 the United States took part in the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion—supporting the Cuban exiles driven out by Castro in 1959. The struggling relationship became even more strained when in October 1962 there was a thirteen-day standoff between the two countries when the Soviet Union deployed missiles in Cuba that had the capability of striking major U.S. cities, missiles that could be equipped with nuclear warheads. This crisis took the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of a nuclear war.
Today with the possibility of re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, Missouri, as well as other Midwest farming states are looking at potentially resuming trade opportunities, especially in the area of agriculture products. This has prompted Governor Jay Nixon to take a delegation (some from the Missouri Department of Agriculture) to Washington to meet with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack with the intent of discussing agricultural trade with Cuba. Governor Nixon has joined a bi-partisan group—the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba—that seeks to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba. This coalition is made up of more than twenty-five prominent U.S. food and agriculture companies and seeks to advance open trade and investment prospects between the two nations. The reopening of trade relations between the U.S. and Cuba would provide U.S. farmers and businessmen with access to new markets, while addressing the need of additional food supplies for the Cuban people.
The United States exported approximately $152.5 billion in agricultural products this past year. Missouri exported $2.2 billion in farm products. The Cuban market is estimated to represent $1.7 billion in increased revenue sales of agricultural products. Our state would like to have a portion of that amount in order to have the economic boost and the jobs increase it could provide to us. With the current sanctions in place, American producers can only sell their goods to a third party and not directly to Cuba. The resumption of trade will allow the third party to be eliminated and will help open up future markets. However, not everyone supports these new trade initiatives. Historically, Cuba has not been reliable in paying its bills. Today even through third party business dealings, Cuba is a cash-up-front customer. The payment policy is designed to protect U.S. businesses who seek to trade with them.
Other problems still exist that might create difficulties with the resumption of Cuban relations, namely, the Castro brothers who are still in control of the country. Raul Castro, the younger brother of the near-ninety-year-old Fidel, is presently serving as the nation’s dictator. The brothers have numerous human rights violations as well as an economy that is in total disarray. Communism hasn’t worked in Cuba nor has it ever been successful anywhere in the world. The human rights issues are why some in Congress are opposing any attempt at re-establishing trade with the island. Others believe that Cuba and the younger Castro are now ready to employ some capitalistic practices in hopes of boosting their failing economy and we should work toward that end.
After all these years, the idea of normalizing relations and changing the way we deal with Cuba could prove to be complicated. However, a U.S. Embassy in Havana could become a reality in the future—as could Missouri agriculture products arriving at Cuban boat docks.