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Rural Minnesota group visits Cuba, see trade opportunities

A Minnesota group of agriculture and rural leaders is back from a visit to Cuba and sees lots of opportunities there for such state products as cooking oil and beef, if the trade embargo is lifted.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that 32 delegates from the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership Program went to Cuba to learn about its economy, agricultural system and the impact of the U.S. embargo that began in 1959.

Tim Alcorn, MARL’s executive director, saw a need for more cooking oil, which is rationed out to the population, and a need for beef in restaurants frequented by foreigners. Although killing cows in Cuba is illegal, beef is imported to serve to foreign visitors.

“In hotels, access to good beef is limited, so there would be opportunity there,” Alcorn said. “They have a taste for cheese already, but it’s expensive. And Minnesota is a good producer of cheese.”

The paper notes other observations from group members:

  • Small private farmers still plow their fields with oxen and horses while the big state-owned farms use tractors, albeit old ones, for growing tobacco, sugar cane and produce.
  • Mostly older cars and trucks are seen, because people were allowed to keep them after the revolution. New ones are expensive, in short supply and can’t be totally owned by the average citizen. Cuban people go to great lengths to keep them running, even without access to replacement parts and tires.
  • Cubans line up for public transportation and for their monthly rations of rice, sugar, coffee, bread and powdered milk for children. While some can afford to shop at farmers markets, few can afford the more expensive grocery stores where some meat is available. Store shelves offer little variety and sparse offerings. And the rare hardware store might offer only old, used parts.

Dave Chura, executive director of the Minnesota Logger Education Program, was on the trip but isn’t convinced the United States should lift the embargo:

“Certainly we want to make sure we’re able to provide them with products that can help them meet basic humanitarian needs,” he said. “At the same time, we don’t want to help them prop up and support the existing government.”

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 03/22/2010 - 12:11 pm.

    The embargo is what is propping up the Cuban government. It is what gives the Castros an excuse to keep their repressive regime in place. Lift the embargo and restore relations, and you’ll see a new government within a couple of years.

  2. Submitted by Kyle Edwards on 03/23/2010 - 02:51 pm.

    The Cuban people is what props up the Cuban government. The collapse of the Soviet Union which brought with it a collapse of 50% of the Cuban economy didn’t spur any uprisings or rebellions. The socialist government in Cuba is here to stay, whether or not there is an embargo.

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