Lawmakers urge trade with Cuba

In an important breakthrough for U.S.-Cuba trade, two members of Montana’s congressional delegation clinched an agreement in Havana on Sept. 14 to sell $10 million of agricultural products to the island nation. The products include Montana wheat, malt and feed barley, beef cattle, dairy cattle, and beans.

Montana’s Democratic Sen. Max Baucus and Republican Rep. Dennis Rehberg heralded the agreement as a boon to U.S. farmers and workers.

“This is a historic agreement that will help boost Montana’s agricultural economy and create jobs,” Baucus said. “This deal paves the way for future sales to Cuba.”

Seven Montana agricultural producers accompanied the lawmakers on the trip. They signed a “memorandum of understanding” formalizing the agreement with the Cuban food import company ALIMPORT, headed by Pedro Alvarez.

In a press conference held in Havana’s Nacional Hotel, Sen. Baucus and Rep. Rehberg indicated that they are in favor of ending the 40-year-plus U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.

Further, Sen. Baucus said he is sponsoring a draft bill in the Senate aimed at ending travel restrictions on the island.

On Sept. 9 the House voted 221-188 in support of a bill sponsored by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that withholds funding for the enforcement of the travel ban, effectively ending restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens. While the House has taken this action several times before, only to see the Senate fail to follow suit, this time it appears likely that the measure will also pass in the Senate.

President Bush has threatened to veto any legislation that eases the blockade against Cuba.

Arnaldo Musa of Granma contributed to this story.