Copyright 2002 The Omaha World-Herald Company
August 18, 2002, Sunday SUNRISE EDITION
BUSINESS; Pg. 1D;
710 words HEADLINE:
Castro isn't threatening, Hagel says The Bush administration says trade with
would be risky. BYLINE:
The Bush administration has attacked growing congressional support for
by arguing it
is a poor credit risk, a small-potatoes trading partner and a possible terrorist
threat to the United States.
Otto Reich, the State Department's
assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere, last week laid out a case
against overtures to Cuba
and its longtime president, Fidel
"Castro has supported terrorist groups in every country in this
hemisphere except Mexico," Reich told reporters Thursday. "So he is a
terrorist." Sen. Chuck Hagel, a main sponsor of Senate legislation to lift
countered Reich on
Friday, saying that to term Castro a threat is "just goofy."
"This is a
toothless old dinosaur," the Nebraska Republican added.
Reich said that
members of Congress listen too much to farm groups like the American Farm Bureau
Federation, a strong proponent of trade with Cuba.
Those supporters overlook Cuba's
human-rights track record, he said. Cuba
kind of Ponzi scheme by using foreign credits from one country to buy goods from
another, then never repaying its debts, Reich said. He released State Department
figures showing that Cuba
has more than $ 11 billion in unpaid
debts to various European countries, another $ 1.7 billion in debts to Latin
American countries and $ 1.7 billion in unpaid debts to Japan.
said giving Cuba
credits to buy U.S. goods will result in
American taxpayers ultimately covering Cuba's
"I really think the American public will end up holding the bag, an
empty bag," Reich said.
Instead of considering exports to
which has a low per-capita income, American farmers
should pursue making more exports to larger, more prosperous Latin American
countries such as Brazil, Reich said.
Furthermore, Reich said,
may be developing biological weapons, although he offered
no direct evidence of that danger.
But that dire message hasn't reached
or persuaded many in Congress, particularly those from the Midwest, who are
pushing for increased trade with Cuba
as a means to try to
undermine the communist government and as a potential boon for American
Hagel contends that trade with Cuba
"open the country up" and notes that the United States already trades with
communist Vietnam and China as well as with other totalitarian countries.
He complained that the U.S. embargo hurts American businesses and is
being driven by politics because Florida, where many anti-Castro Cuban-Americans
live, is a key state in presidential elections.
A law passed in 2000 has
opened the trade door a bit. It allows U.S. companies to sell goods to
In an attempt to take part in such
sales, hundreds of American companies and officials from several states will
attend a four-day food exposition in Havana next month.
ConAgra Inc., the agribusiness giant, is among American companies planning to
attend the event, according to the U.S.-Cuba
Trade and Economic
Council, Inc. in New York.
"In general we're always looking to introduce
our products to new customers, in this case the Cuban people, and we do that
through a variety of ways with conferences, expositions," said Bob McKeon,
spokesman for ConAgra Foods.
Hagel noted that Cuba
already paid at least $ 100 million in cash for American corn, rice, soybeans,
apples and more.
"Now the smart boys in government might not think $ 100
million is very much," he said, "but I think most people in Nebraska would think
that's a pretty good piece of change."
Last month, the House voted
262-167 to lift the ban on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba,
rejected 204-226 a proposal to erase all economic sanctions.
Midlands lawmakers who voted to end the travel limits were: Reps. Lee Terry,
Doug Bereuter and Tom Osborne, Nebraska Republicans. Also supporting an end to
the travel sanctions
were Iowa Republicans Greg Ganske and Tom
Latham and Democrat Leonard Boswell.
Bereuter and Terry opposed ending
all of the economic sanctions,
the others did not. Bereuter has
favored lifting food and medicine sanctions
Hagel; The Associated Press/1 LOAD-DATE: