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[Congressional Record: April 22, 2002 (Senate)]
[Page S3000-S3002]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []

                    U.S. FARM PRODUCT SALES TO CUBA

  Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, it is one thing to shoot yourself in the 
foot, it is quite another thing to take aim before you shoot. That is 
what has happened in the last couple of weeks with respect to the State 
Department deciding to revoke the visas they previously granted to 
Pedro Alvarez and other officials from a group called Alimport, which 
is a Cuban state-run purchaser of foreign goods.
  Mr. Alvarez and others were invited to come from Cuba to the United 
States, to come to North Dakota, to Iowa, and to other parts of farm 
country in the United States because they need food. The Cuban economy 
has been injured, of course, by the hurricane, and they need food. As a 
result of that, they have been purchasing food from the United States. 
Why have they been purchasing food from the United States? Because I 
and some others took the lead in Congress to end the embargo with 
respect to the shipment of food from the United States to Cuba.
  That embargo has existed for decades. We ended that in the year 2000. 
The result is that Cubans have bought $70 million-plus worth of food 
from us in the last few months.
  It is kind of byzantine, because in order to buy food from us, they 
are required to pay cash and do it through a French bank. They work the 
transaction through a French bank. Nonetheless, that is what they have 
  Mr. Alvarez and the organization Alimport applied for visas to come 
to this country at the invitation of U.S. farm groups to buy additional 
wheat, eggs, dried beans, and other commodities. So they were given the 
visas. Just a couple days later, the visas were yanked. The passports 
were asked to be returned, and the visas were revoked. When I learned 
of that, I called the State Department.
  Here is what the State Department told my staff. My staff asked: What 
is going on? Why did you revoke the visas of the people who were going 
to come from Cuba to purchase some additional United States food from 
our farmers?

       It is the policy of this administration not to encourage 
     agricultural sales to Cuba.

  Let me read that again. That is a most byzantine position.

       It is the policy of this administration not to encourage 
     agricultural sales to Cuba.

  We sell it to Communist China. Yes. That is a Communist government. 
We sell food to Vietnam. Yes. That is a Communist government. We sell 
food virtually all around the world. We fought for years to lift this 
embargo on food sales to Cuba. We are now selling food to Cuba, and we 
have some people taking a brainless position down at the Department of 
State that it is not our position to encourage food sales to Cuba; 
therefore, we will revoke the visas we previously granted to the head 
of Alimport to come into this country, to visit farm States, to 
purchase some dried beans, wheat, eggs, and other food products.
  I am writing a letter today to Mr. Alvarez inviting him to come to 
the United States. It is not from farm organizations. It is from me. I 
am sending a copy of that letter to the State Department saying: You 
have an obligation to play straight.
  When this country has the opportunity for family farmers to sell food 
to those in Cuba who need it and who are hungry and want access to that 
food, we have a responsibility to our farmers, and the State Department 
has a responsibility to the Congress to help make that happen.
  Our farmers are facing really tough times. Prices have collapsed. 
They have remained down for a long while. Then we have this embargo on 
food sales and shipments to Cuba. We opened it just a bit and sold them 
$70 million worth of food. Now we have folks down in the State 
Department trying to play games with it once again.
  I have asked the State Department: Who made these decisions? How did 
you make the decision? Who demanded that the visas be revoked? I want 
to know who has their foot on the brake. I want to know who has one of 
these hardheaded embargoes still going on

[[Page S3001]]

with respect to Cuba. I want to know who is asking family farmers to be 
pawns in this struggle they have with Cuba.
  Let me say that Mr. Otto Reich, the administration's top Latin 
American official, told a group of farmers: We are not going to be 
``economic suckers'' to Fidel Castro. That attitude is an insult to 
American farmers. Our farmers produce food. They ought not be pawns in 
some soft-headed foreign policy by which someone wants to prevent that 
food from going to hungry people.
  Does anyone here think Fidel Castro has ever missed a meal because we 
have for 35 or 40 years not allowed farmers to send food to Cuba? Does 
anyone here think Fidel Castro has ever missed breakfast, lunch, or 
dinner? You know better than that.
  This country is shooting itself in the foot. Mr. Reich and others are 
taking aim before they do it. It is unforgivable. They have an 
obligation to play straight on this issue.
  We have already debated this issue and made a decision on this issue. 
The decision was that it is immoral to use food as a weapon, and we are 
not going to do it anymore--not with Cuba, and not with other 
  I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record a copy of a 
letter I sent to Mr. Colin Powell, Secretary of State, asking the 
questions: Who made these decisions? How did they make these decisions? 
When did they make them?
  I would also like to have printed in the Record a letter from two 
dozen agricultural organizations protesting the same decision to revoke 
this visa. It includes the American Farm Bureau Federation, the 
American Meat Institute, Farmland Industries, the National Association 
of Wheat Growers, the U.S. Canola Association, the U.S. Dry Pea & 
Lentil Council, U.S. Wheat Associates, and the list goes on and on.
  There being no objection, the letters were ordered to be printed in 
the Record, as follows:

                                                  U.S. Senate,

                                   Washington, DC, April 17, 2002.
     Hon. Colin L. Powell,
     Secretary of State, the State Department,
     Washington, DC.
       Dear Secretary Powell: My office has been informed that the 
     State Department recently approved--then rescinded--a visit 
     for Pedro Alvarez, Chief of Alimport and other Cuban 
     officials, who wished to come here to buy U.S. farm products.
       Their trip to the United States would have included a visit 
     to my state, North Dakota, where they had been invited by a 
     North Dakota farm organization which hoped to interest them 
     in buying some of North Dakota's excellent farm products. It 
     was to be a customary visit foreign purchasing agents make to 
     meet with U.S. suppliers, inspect facilities, and verify U.S. 
     procedures and standards before making major purchases.
       This was an important visit, filled with economic 
     opportunity for North Dakota farmers who continue to suffer 
     under commodity prices that collapsed six years ago and that 
     have remained collapsed ever since.
       Alimport is a very significant customer for U.S. farm 
     products. Since November 2001, when legislation I helped 
     enact into law finally made it possible for U.S. 
     organizations and companies to sell food and medicines to 
     Cuba, Alimport has purchased approximately 450,000 metric 
     tons of agricultural commodities--corn, rice, wheat, soy, 
     poultry, vegetable oil, apples, peas, eggs and pork lard--
     worth about $75 million.
       I want a complete investigation into why these visas were 
     cancelled. When my staff inquired about it, State Department 
     officials told them, ``It is the policy of this 
     Administration not to encourage agricultural sales to Cuba.'' 
     That is unacceptable to me.
       If that is the basis for which the visas were cancelled, it 
     is an insult to American farmers and puts at risk 
     agricultural sales to Cuba. At a time when grain prices 
     remain collapsed, it is just plain wrong for the 
     Administration to try to impede the sale of grain to Cuba.
       This is a brainless policy to be saying that we don't want 
     to sell grain to the Cubans. We sell grain to communist 
     China, communist Viet Nam, and it's just absurd to tell our 
     farmers that our government doesn't want to sell grain to 
       I want a complete investigation to find out who is running 
     things in the State Department. Who ordered the visas 
     cancelled? Did political operatives in the Administration 
     communicate with the State Department about these visas?
       I also want to request that you personally intervene in 
     this matter. Our country needs to use some common sense. We 
     must stop using our family farmers as pawns in foreign 
     policy. That is the mandate from Congress and, specifically, 
     when it comes to Cuba that is the law. It ought to be obeyed.
       Pleased intervene and make the right decision with respect 
     to these issues.
                                                  Byron L. Dorgan,
     U.S. Senator.

                                                   April 18, 2002.
     Hon. Colin L. Powell,
     Secretary, U.S. Department of State,
     Washington, DC.
       Dear Secretary Powell: As export dependent food and 
     agricultural industries, we wish to express our 
     disappointment with the recent action taken by the Department 
     of State to deny visas to Cuban trade officials. The planned 
     meetings between U.S. agricultural representatives and Cuban 
     officials to review U.S. standards and procedures in 
     conjunction with contracted and potential agricultural sales 
     to Cuba will no longer be possible. Maintaining access to the 
     Cuban market for our products is an important goal for our 
       The purpose of the Cuban travel, that has now been denied, 
     was for Cuban officials to meet with U.S. suppliers, inspect 
     facilities, discuss sanitary and phytosanitary issues and 
     verify U.S. procedures and standards associated with the sale 
     of U.S. food and agricultural exports to Cuba. Visits of this 
     type are routinely conducted by U.S. officials and U.S. 
     importers in markets that sell to the United States. It is 
     also customary practice for foreign purchasing agents and 
     government technical teams to travel to the U.S. to meet with 
     U.S. suppliers and tour facilities.
       Two years ago, Congress, backed by the strong support of 
     the U.S. food and agricultural community, opened the Cuban 
     market for our goods by partially lifting nearly 40 years of 
     unilateral sanctions against Cuba. Cuba continues to pay cash 
     in full for its purchases and has signaled intent to expand 
     its imports of U.S. food and agricultural commodities.
       Mr. Secretary, we ask your help in keeping this small but 
     viable market open for export sales of U.S. food and 
     agricultural commodities. This recent action by the 
     Department of State puts all future Cuban food and 
     agricultural purchases at risk at a time when American 
     farmers and ranchers are under extreme economic stress from 
     low prices and decreasing world market share.
       We hope that the administration will look favorable upon 
     future purchasing and technical visits from Cuban officials.
       Agricultural Retailers Association.
       American Farm Bureau Federation.
       American Meat Institute.
       American Soybean Association.
       Archer Daniels Midland Company.
       Cargill Incorporated.
       Farmland Industries, Inc.
       Grocery Manufacturers of America.
       Louis Dreyfus Corporation.
       National Association of Wheat Growers.
       National Barley Growers Association.
       National Chicken Council.
       National Corn Growers Association.
       National Oilseed Processors Association.
       National Pork Producers Council.
       National Renderers Association.
       National Sunflower Association.
       North American Export Grain Association.
       North American Millers' Association.
       Rice Millers' Association.
       U.S. Canola Association.
       U.S. Dry Pea & Lentil Council.
       U.S. Rice Producers Association.
       U.S. Rice Producers' Group.
       U.S. Wheat Associates.
       Wheat Export Trade Education Committee.

  Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, this policy is wrong. This policy injures 
American farmers. This policy continues an embargo. We know embargoes 
hurt us. They hurt our farmers. Those kinds of activities hurt poor, 
sick and hungry people in countries like Cuba. They do not hurt Fidel 
Castro. They hurt our farmers. And they hurt the poor, sick, and hungry 
people abroad.
  When someone wants to come to this country to buy American grain, 
eggs, dried beans, and other products our farmers produce, the State 
Department has no right, in my judgment, to revoke those visas for 
political purposes. That is what I think has happened in this regard.

       It is the policy of this administration not to encourage 
     agricultural sales to Cuba.

  I say to those in this administration who have said that and who 
believe that: You have a responsibility to stop this nonsense. You are 
hurting American family farmers. And it is an abrogation of the 
policies we have already developed here in the Congress.
  I am going to send a letter today to the State Department saying I 
have invited the head of Alimport into this country. I have invited 
them to North Dakota. I want them to come here and buy American farm 
products. I think the State Department has a responsibility to provide 
visas for those who would come from Alimport to make those purchases of 
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Texas.
  Mr. GRAMM. Mr. President, let me remind my colleagues of a couple 
things. First, this is a revenue bill.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Chair wishes to inform the Senator from 
Texas, we are not on the energy

[[Page S3002]]

bill at this moment. We are still in morning business.
  Does the Senator seek recognition in morning business?
  Mr. GRAMM. Mr. President, I would be very happy to have my remarks in 
morning business.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Texas.