US farm businesses want Biden to allow more investment in Cuba

The US Agricultural Coalition for Cuba believes change has been too slow
calendar icon 5 April 2023
clock icon 2 minute read

US agro-businesses, on a trade tour in Cuba, said on Tuesday they were "losing" in their bid to boost commerce with Cuban farmers and called on the Biden administration to ease restrictions and allow them to invest in private agriculture on the island, reported Reuters.

US President Joe Biden last May loosened restrictions on travel, remittances and migration, and promised the United States would do more to support the fledgling private sector in Cuba.

Change, however, has been too slow to come, said Paul Johnson, chair of the US Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, a more than 100-member organization that includes national and state farm organizations, corporations and producers.

"We're losing, and we're tired of losing," Johnson told reporters on the sidelines of the gathering at a hotel in Havana.

The US businesses are keen to both sell their own product to Cuba and to invest in private sector farms and cooperatives to help them develop.

Little has changed on the island since a similar group of would-be investors arrived last April. Many farms have been shuttered by lack of investment, equipment, fuel and supplies, leading to widespread shortages of food across Cuba.

"It's frustrating to us in the United States, because we believe it's something that we can fix. We need to go back to our government ... and insist that the private sector is a path forward to development," said Johnson.

Cuba, a long-time foe of the United States, swapped capitalism for socialism shortly after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, preferring state over private enterprise.

But in August 2021, the communist-run government lifted a ban on private companies that had been in place since 1968. Upwards of 7,000 such businesses have opened since, according to an Economy Ministry list updated on March 23.

Investors from countries including Mexico, Venezuela, Vietnam, China, Spain and Russia, among others, have previously participated in state- and private business in Cuba.

The United States remains an outlier. The US Treasury Department last May authorized a company owned by entrepreneur John Kavulich to invest in a small private business in Cuba's services sector, the first such approval in decades.

But many other similar requests remain unanswered, Johnson said.

"Obviously that's just not good enough," Johnson said. "We're capitalists. We invest in private business all around the world. Why can't we do it in Cuba?"

Despite the loosening of some restrictions, a Cold War-era US embargo on Cuba remains in place, prohibiting some trade and financing between the two countries and complicating investment ties.

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