Imagine if someone came in and stole your farm. The thieves are growing crops on that farm using your land, equipment and investments. Then 15 years later, they sell the crops to the country you used to market to for a profit.
This scenario will play out if the U.S. expands trade with Cuba, according to Sen. Marco Rubio. "Every single piece of farmland in Cuba today, every major agricultural crop was once owned by private owners including American companies," the senator from Florida explained. "They were stolen. They were confiscated. If you allow the import of agricultural goods from Cuba into the United States, you are allowing them to traffic in stolen goods."
While Rubio was not making any presidential announcements to the members of four state Farm Bureau delegations gathered at the Capital Visitors Center, he was talking ag trade with Cuba. Missouri has been on the forefront of petitioning Congress to lift the embargo on Cuba and pursue trade opportunities.
Just last month, Missouri 's First Lady Georganne Nixon, along with Missouri Director of Agriculture Richard Fordyce and members of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba traveled to Havana to discuss the possibility of opening trade. In all, 75 individuals accompanied them on the trade mission, of those, 30 represented Missouri agribusiness and agriculture commodity interests.
If the U.S. lifts the embargo, estimates show that $4.3 billion in goods could be sold to Cuba annually. Fordyce said that Missouri wants to be there to capture some of those dollars. "Missouri's agriculture diversity gives us a real competitive advantage because many of the current imports into Cuba are exactly the things we are growing here in Missouri," he said. Missouri is a leading state in producing corn, soybeans, rice, beef, pork, poultry, apples and wine. "These same goods are top imports of Cuba," Fordyce added. "Missouri is well-placed to go into the country."
But despite the room being filled with farmers and ranchers from Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota and Texas, Rubio made it clear that the path some state Farm Bureaus want in regard to lifting the embargo on Cuba is not one he wants to take.
Cause for caution
Rubio's own family comes from a farming background in Cuba. "They were sharecroppers," he said. "They grew tobacco." However, that property his family relied on for a source of income today is completely under the control of the Cuban government.
Rubio shared how the Cuban government through its military's holding company named Grupo de Administracion Empresarial S.A. or GAESA owns the entire Cuban economy. "They own hotels. They own farms. They own everything," he said. "To do business with Cuba would require you to do business with a military dictatorship. And doing business with them is not a two way street."
Currently, there are agriculture goods sold to Cuba, but only on a cash basis, never on credit. "There is a reason why," Rubio told the group. "They don't pay. That is a big problem." He noted that there is $7 billion worth of American claims with Cuba that remain unpaid.
Rubio shared with Farm Bureau members that there is more than just agriculture trade at stake.
"What I primarily care about are the Cuban people," he said.
He explained that if the United States lifts the embargo against Cuba, it loses the political advantage to free the Cuban people from a communist dictatorship. It is a country where the average salary of a government employee is $20 per month.
The embargo serves as "leverage" to require the Cuban government to pursue a democratic society. Rubio wants to see things like independent political parties, individuals to be able to speak out openly and the ability to have freedom of the press. Without these changes, he said, the United States should not pursue trade with Cuba.