NFU’s Johnson, others react to Fidel Castro’s death
What does Fidel Castro’s death mean for American farmers’ hopes for easier trade with Cuba and travel to the island nation only 90 miles from Florida?
Asked to react to the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro on Friday, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said, “If folks expect Cuba to suddenly become a democratic government following Fidel Castro’s death, they will be sadly mistaken. Behind him and Raúl are a long line of others in the government who will have a strong likelihood of governing in the same fashion.”
He added, “Our embargo has been a miserable failure, and we should end it. That will end the excuse so often used by the Cuban government to continue the policies we object to.”
U.S. farm and agriculture groups are united in their campaign to end the U.S. embargo on trade that was imposed in 1961, and over the weekend other farm and agriculture leaders told the Wall Street Journal that they hoped President-elect Donald Trump would not agree with some of his supporters who want to pull back on the liberalization in which President Barack Obama engaged. (See link.)
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But it appears clear that Trump will be under pressure to make it harder to do business with Cuba and to travel there, rather than endorse ending the embargo.
John Kavulich, president of the U.S-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said that Castro’s death will have no short- or medium-term impact for the U.S. business community but “will neither have immediate or consequential impact upon the lives of the 11.3 million citizens of Cuba.”
He added, “The government of Cuba will retrench to demonstrate that the Revolution survives its founder – and continues to defy the United States.”
Kavulich also said that the “re-establishment this week of regularly scheduled non-stop commercial flights from the United States to Havana, Cuba, and return provide a highly visible and an additional measure of normalcy in an anything-but-normal bilateral commercial, economic and political relationship,” but that Trump and Republican members of Congress may try to eliminate or reduce the flights and make Treasury Department enforcement of rules on trade to Cuba stricter.
Kavulich added that he will not be surprised if Trump and his transition team consider implementing Title II of the Libertad Act of 1996, which enables those with assets expropriated by the government of the Republic of Cuba to bring lawsuits in U.S. federal courts. The Libertad Act requires the president to either enable or suspend the provision every six months; and Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have done so, Kavulich noted. Obama could suspend Title III before he departs office on January 20, 2017, thus providing at least six months of reprieve – and provide an opportunity for United States companies to advocate for continued suspensions.
Obama issued a carefully worded statement, noting Castro’s impact on history:
“At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.
“For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements. During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends – bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity. This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban-Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba.
“Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro’s family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”
Trump emphasized the negative side of Castro’s legacy: “Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.
“While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.
“Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty. I join the many Cuban-Americans who supported me so greatly in the presidential campaign, including the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association that endorsed me, with the hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba.”
A series of Republican House members issued similar statements.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said, “Now that Fidel Castro is dead, the cruelty and oppression of his regime should die with him. Sadly, much work remains to secure the freedom of the Cuban people, and the United States must be fully committed to that work. Today, let us reflect on the memory and sacrifices of all those who have suffered under the Castros.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said, “Under Fidel Castro’s brutal and oppressive dictatorship, the Cuban people have suffered politically and economically for decades, and it is my hope that his passing might turn the page toward a better way of life for the many who have dreamed of a brighter future for their country.”
–The Hagstrom Report
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