Frustration in Arkansas

Wednesday, May 13, 2009
From today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
Small steps the Obama administration has taken toward normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba have farmers hopeful that the island will grow as an export market for their crops.
However, opposition from some in Congress, particularly Florida lawmakers with many Cuban-American constituents, and residual distrust on both sides of diverging political ideologies are likely to hamper efforts to end a 46-year-old trade embargo.
Sanctions are the best tool to try to pry some change out of the Cuban government, argued Ray Walser, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington research and advocacy group.
"These guys are still totalitarians," he said in an interview. "If they're not going to change, why should we?"
"That's the same crap we've heard for the past 50 years," responded Rep. Vic Snyder, a Democrat from Arkansas. "We've given the policy ample opportunity to work."
Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's cession of power in 2008 to his brother, Raul, and the Obama administration's pledge to open channels of communication have many foreign-policy experts hopeful for a breakthrough.
In April, Obama relaxed restrictions on family travel to Cuba and eased limits on money people send to family members on the Island.
The move brought immediate criticism from some, including Florida Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who said, in a statement, that it was a "serious mistake."
"Unilateral concessions to the dictatorship embolden it to further isolate, imprison and brutalize pro-democracy activists," Diaz-Balart said.
During March debate on a broad spending bill, he and other Florida legislators, including Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, fought an attempt to relax agricultural-trade rules with Cuba. Certain agricultural products are not included in the embargo.
As enacted, the law specified that the Treasury Department was not to enforce a rule that requires cash payments on agricultural shipments to the island be made in advance and go through a third-country bank.
Shortly afterward, after Martinez and others weighed in, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner issued a statement that indicated that the regulation would not be enforced, but that the official policy remained intact - shippers would have to be paid in cash, in advance.
"That was disappointing," said Reece Langley, vice president of governmental affairs at the USA Rice Federation.