HOUSTON — Texas rice farmers and a Republican member of Congress that they elected, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Humble), are angry about President Bush’s denial of their access to the Cuban rice market. A spending bill that included a clause that might have revived sales of rice to Cuba was recently introduced. When Bush threatened to veto the bill if the clause was not removed, it was suddenly removed.

The Houston Chronicle quotes Poe, who represents the district that includes most of the 41,500 acres of rice farms in Southeast Texas. He said the cutting of the clause is a mistake: “It doesn’t punish the Communists in Cuba, it punishes the rice farmers in Texas.” The president of the Texas Rice Council, Ray Stoesser, said, “It’s devastating. … We need that Cuban market and we need it bad. … It was the second-best export market for rice behind Mexico in 2004, and we were growing. … It’s silly for us to be so close to people who want our rice, and our government won’t let us sell to them.” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) supports renewed trade with Cuba.

Bush and his right-wing Republican cronies, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Sugarland) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), oppose allowing sales of Texas rice to Cuba.

On Nov. 9, Texas farmers and cattle ranchers attended the Texas-Cuba Trade Alliance meeting held in Beaumont, Texas. They demanded the U.S. ease trade restrictions with Cuba so the socialist country can buy more Texas rice, cattle and milk.

Former Rep. Nick Lampson, who will be Tom DeLay’s Democratic opponent in the 2006 elections, led a delegation to Cuba prior to President Clinton’s easing export restrictions. In 1999, Lampson said, “I do not believe that the United States should ever use sanctions on food and medical sales as a foreign policy tool.”

In November 2000, CubaNet News reported that Tom DeLay, whose district includes many rice farmers, acknowledged that he worked with Cuban-American congressmen to block the lifting of sanctions. According to the article, the Houston Chronicle quoted a prepared statement by DeLay as declaring, “Trade with Cuba is tantamount to the perpetuation of the Cuban tyranny. … If we lift the sanctions in Cuba, Castro would be free to export to the U.S. a vast array of winter crops, including tobacco, sugar and citrus. Inevitably, Castro will dump Cuba’s agricultural products on the U.S. market to further hurt American sugar, citrus and tobacco farmers.”

Agricultural industry experts have argued for many years that the restrictions on trade with Cuba are particularly hurtful to Texas rice farmers. They may well be asking if DeLay is on America’s side.