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.

  • Orlando (machete)

    How exactly do you propose to trade with the Cuban people while bypassing the government?

    Cubans can’t fart without fearing that the police may interpret it as “pre-criminal social dangerousness” (actual punishable offense, usually reserved for those who may be thinking anything negative about castro and his socialist dictatorship). The government has its evil fingers in everything and so I ask in all seriousness as an avid subscriber to this blog, how exactly do you propose this?

    After all, it was castro who drew first blood, so to speak, when he stole all U.S. businesses on the island. *All* the Cuban government has to do is end its apartheid and human rights abuses, release its political prisoners, hold a legitimate election (with opposition candidates and no threat of violence with regards to the vote), and the U.S. will come to the table.

    I agree a free market with free trade can heal many wounds, but fully lifting the embargo (after all, the U.S. freely trades food and medicines that theoretically should trickle down to the people) will only truly result with free-trade in one direction.

  • Henry Gomez

    Machete has it right. Free trade with Cuba might help bring freedom to that island if the trade were with private entities on the island. But the Cuban government is the only entity legally allowed to trade with foreign companies. The answer to who buys in Cuba is state owned, state run “companies” and much of the food and yes wine is used used in the tourist sector which is managed and controlled by the Cuban military. Until Cuba liberalizes its economy, allowing for private property and private enterprise lifting the embargo accomplishes nothing except enriching government officials in the “pass-through” system that is essentially perverse government controlled trickle down.

  • Jeff Molby

    Are you guys forgetting the “unseen”?

    A dictator, no matter how brutal, cannot maintain power over a country united against him. The key for Castro (and our government as well) is to make sure there’s plenty of disagreement as to the source of the common man’s problems.

    The embargo makes it easy for Castro to shift the blame to us.

  • Doug Mataconis

    I’ve got to agree.

    We sold stuff to the Soviets during the Cold War, why shouldn’t we sell stuff to the Cubans ?

  • Nitroadict

    Well, seeing how Coca Cola made Fanta in Nazi Germany, the lack of trade with Cuba just seems like funny stuff to me.