02/11/13 - Western Farm Press (blog) - U.S. rice trade with Cuba entangled with jailed American
Exporting U.S. rice to Cuba just can't seem to get going. After importing
U.S. rice in record numbers a few years back, Cuba's imports of U.S. rice
have now slowed to a trickle. Relations between the two countries have
Unfortunately, this is not likely to change until something is done about
an American named Alan Gross, who has been sitting in a Cuban jail for
In November 2009, Gross was an American international development expert
working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International
Gross was hired to implement a risky plan in Cuba, setting up broadband
technology for small numbers of Jewish citizens in Havana. The technology
provided the Cubans with unfiltered access to the Internet.
Cuba's security forces considered this a serious crime and on Dec. 3, 2009
arrested Gross at Havana's Jose Marti Airport as he was attempting to
leave Cuba. He was ultimately convicted for "acts against the independence
or the territorial integrity of the state."
The 63-year old is now beginning the fourth year of a 15-year prison
sentence, and apparently, Cuba has no intention of letting him go. In
fact, they've recently used Gross as a bargaining chip for five Cuban
spies convicted in Miami of various crimes including conspiring to shoot
down two civilian airplanes in 1996, which killed four south Florida men.
In rejecting the offer, U.S. officials noted that there is "no parallel"
between Gross and the jailed Cubans. I agree. In most countries, giving
people access to information is not only a right, but perfectly legal, and
murder is a crime.
The Obama Administration has stated that further talks on improving Cuba
and U.S. relations, including trade matters, will not resume until Gross
While a trade embargo might seem like a good way to bully outlaw states
like Cuba into changing their ways, it's far from a precision shot because
it also punishes Cuban citizens who are in desperate need of goods and
services, as well as U.S. producers who need their consumerism.
And I'm sure the Obama Administration is not ignoring the fact that free
trade can give birth to democratic principles too.
When trade creates capital, economies prosper. When economies prosper,
people have the power to change their lives. When people have that kind of
power, they can topple despots. Despots, on the other hand, don't
necessarily mind if their people remain ignorant and oppressed.
So do we push trade at all costs hoping that it will open the world for
democracy? Or withhold it for a similar change? It's an interesting and
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