Are The Cubans Drinking That Much Chardonnay?
I picked up the LA Times today, to find an article in the Business section about California’s Agriculture Secretary trying to open Cuban doors and increase orders of our agriculture products. California produces a wide variety of wonderful products, such as figs, wine, artichokes, etc. But one must ask a simple question: who in Cuba is buying?
Actually, there’s another question before all is said and done, and that’s even more important: who in Cuba is allowed to buy these products?
Washington’s embargo prevents U.S. tourists from visiting Cuba and prohibits nearly all trade. But a 2000 law allows the Cuban government to buy U.S. food and agricultural products in cash, and America has been the island’s leading source of food and farm items since 2003.
Typical diets on the island include foods available through the government’s ration program: rice, potatoes, beans, small amounts of meat and other basic goods. Fruits and vegetables often are luxuries. Although many Cubans receive funds sent by relatives in the U.S., few families are likely to have enough money for nuts or figs when the average monthly state salary is about $19.50.
Now, I’m a free-trader by nature. In fact, I support ending the embargo with Cuba completely. Nothing– short of an end to socialism, of course– will help the actual people of that island more than the ability to trade freely with the United States.
But this bothers me. If the Cuban government is the only entity who can buy these products, isn’t it likely that we’re just going to be letting Castro drink wonderfully delicious wines during his recovery? Does anyone really think that we’re doing anything other than letting the rich and politically connected of that nation become more comfortable? I realize that in years past, our CIA may have tried to take out Castro, but I doubt that cirrhosis of the liver is going to be a quickly effective method.
There are a lot of things we can do to help Americans sell into the Cuban market, and to improve the lives of the Cuban people. First and foremost is opening up the trade channels between our nations. To do this, we need to trade with the Cuban people, not the Cuban government. This does nothing of the sort, and only improves the lives of those who have their boots on the neck of the Cuban people.