Selling rice to Cuba

Local farmers should support a bill that would open trade

Butte County farmers and the Farm Bureau should get behind a bill now working its way through Congress. Referred to as the “Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act,” the bill (HR 4645 in the House, S. 428 in the Senate) would not only lift travel restrictions against Americans traveling to Cuba, it would also greatly loosen food exports there.

The bill’s benefits for local agriculturalists are plain to see. Cuba’s 11 million people comprise a ready and close-by market for the rice, nuts and other crops grown here. And the benefits for all Americans are just as obvious: It will eliminate a paternalistic restriction on our personal freedom that has far outlived any usefulness it might have had.

The United States has embargoed Cuba for 50 years now, in the hope that restive Cubans deprived of consumer goods would rise up and overthrow their communist rulers. It hasn’t happened, and today the United States is virtually alone in boycotting the country. It’s time to try the approach we’ve taken, with success, in two other nominally communist countries, China and Vietnam: trade and personal contact.

Since Raúl Castro replaced his brother Fidel as the country’s leader, Cuba has initiated a series of modest measures—most recently a pledge to release 52 political prisoners—signaling its willingness to liberalize. Imagine what increased trade with America, and even more so increased tourism, might do to encourage this process.

After five decades of policies toward Cuba that have done nothing to dislodge its ruling party, but instead have served mostly to impoverish the people of that beautiful country, it’s time for a change.