11 March, 2015
In January, the Pew Research Center published a public opinion study that showed more than 60 percent of Americans support the renewal of full diplomatic relations with Cuba. In December, President Obama announced he had decided that the two nations should officially recognize one another. It was the first step toward ending a trade embargo that had been in place since the 1960s.
In January, during his State of the Union speech, the president called on Congress to begin the work of ending the embargo. Some state and federal lawmakers strongly support the proposal. Others strongly oppose it.
Many American farmers and agriculture organizations want the trade embargo to end. Then, they could sell more of their crops to Cuba more easily. Cuba imports about 80 percent of its food.
Thomas Marten is a farmer in the central American state of Illinois. He says ending the embargo could increase his profits by 15 percent. He will plant his crops in the next few months. He says he grows a lot of special corn, including non-GMO. He says almost all of the product goes to export markets.
Mr. Marten says his father could not have imagined ever selling his crops to Cuba. He said the embargo was in place the entire time his father and his father's brothers were farming.
Mr. Marten is part of a group of farmers and business leaders pressuring lawmakers to support the end of the trade embargo.
People in Cuba were eating from crops grown in Illinois even before Mr. Obama said he would end the embargo. Mark Albertson is a director of market development at the Illinois Soybean Association.
He says the Trade Sanctions and Reform Act under former President Bill Clinton permitted agriculture trade to Cuba. But he says there were a lot of difficulties still.
One of the difficulties is that it is illegal for the United States to permit Cuba to make payments over time for a shipment of food. This means Cuba must pay the complete amount owed for the food when it is sent.
Mr. Albertson says other countries give financial credit to Cuba making them more competitive than American farmers. He says there has been a sharp drop in agriculture-related exports to Cuba in recent years.
The business group, U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba is leading a group of about 75 farmers and business leaders on a trip to Cuba later in March. Thomas Marten is going. It will be his second trip to the island nation.
He told VOA he is optimistic about the future of trade with Cuba. He thinks the embargo has failed to pressure the country's leaders to improve the lives of the Cuban people. But he says he knows there are problems that must be dealt with.
"As both a farmer and a Catholic, you know, I definitely saw that there's a lot of churches closed there, and that's something that definitely concerns me in Cuba -- is their human rights record. That said, 54 years of our embargo has done very, very little as far as improving the human rights conditions in Cuba."
Mr. Marten says he hopes that some of the corn and soy from his next harvest will be sold to Cuba.
I'm Marsha James.
VOA correspondent Kane Farabaugh reported this story from Bloomington, Illinois. Christopher Jones-Cruise wrote it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
embargo – n. a government order that limits trade in some way
GMO – acronym genetically modified organism
credit – n. money that a bank or business will permit a person to use and then pay back in the future
optimistic – adj. hopeful; having or showing hope for the future; expecting good things to happen
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