Nine governors ask Congress to end Cuba blockade

The governors of nine U.S. states have sent a forcefully worded letter to the House and Senate leadership in Washington calling for an end to the 54-year U.S. trade blockade of socialist Cuba.

The letter, dated October 9, was signed by Republican governors Robert Bentley of Alabama and C.L. Otter of Idaho, and Democratic governors Jerry Brown of California, Steve Bullock of Montana,  Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Thomas Wolf of Pennsylvania, Peter Shumlin of Vermont, Terry McAuliffe of Virginia and Jay Inslee of Washington. It was addressed to outgoing House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. 

The text of the letter emphasizes the benefits that could accrue to U.S. industries, especially agriculture, and workers by greatly increasing U.S. trade with Cuba.  The letters point out that although the sale of U.S. farm products has been allowed since the passage of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, Cuba is still not allowed, under U.S. law, to purchase any U.S. products using credit mechanisms available to all other U.S. trading partners.

This fact causes U.S. exporters to be non-competitive with those of other countries:  “Foreign competitors such as Canada, Brazil and the European Union are increasingly taking market share from U.S. industry, as those countries do not face the same restrictions on financing”. 

Recent news stories indeed show that agricultural exports to Cuba have been declining as the Cubans, able to buy U.S. products only on these difficult terms, look elsewhere for supplies. 

The letter adds that to allow sales only of agricultural commodities to Cuba and not products of other branches of U.S. industry limits the benefit of such trade to U.S. companies and workers.

“Ending the embargo will create jobs here at home, especially in rural America, and will create new opportunities for American agriculture. Expanding trade with Cuba will strengthen our nation’s agriculture sector by opening a market of 11 million people just 90 miles from our shores”.

The letter praises the Obama administration’s executive measures toward normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba but points out that Congressional action is required to fully complete this process. 

The letter does not mention specific pieces of legislation, but ending the blockade, or  embargo as the letter calls it, would entail at least the repeal or radical modification of the Toricelli Act of 1992  and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996.  Lobbying is now underway to accomplish this by means of a number of bills currently in Congress

Cuba has complained bitterly about the impact of the blockade on its ability to get hold of pharmaceuticals and medical devices that it does not produce itself; this has put the lives of Cubans, especially children, at risk.  Not only can the Cubans not obtain what they need, the blockade stops companies in third countries from exporting to Cuba, on pain of being sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.    

Cuba, for its part, wishes to be able to export its goods to the United States as well, especially the products of its sophisticated biomedical industry which could be helpful to sick people in the United States.  But the blockade also prevents this.    So sick people in both countries suffer because of the blockade.

The fact that the nine state governors have spoken out in favor of ending the blockade can be contrasted with the fact that the major Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential elections, with the exception of the unelectable Rand Paul, and, strange to say, Donald Trump (who previously had called for the U.S. to capture Cuba’s leaders and put them on trial) not only are in favor of maintaining the blockade but would also roll back President Obama’s normalization initiatives.  In contrast, all the present Democratic Party candidates have said they would continue Obama’s policy.   

Photo: Govenors of farm states are among those wanting increased agricultural trade with Cuba.  |  Bean Blog


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.