US farmers visiting Havana lose ground in trade with Cuba

US farmers visiting Havana lose ground in trade with Cuba

HAVANA, April 4 U.S. farmers visiting Havana said on Tuesday that they are “losing” in their attempt to boost trade with Cuban producers and urged the Joe Biden government to ease restrictions allowing investment in the sector on the island.

Biden eased restrictions on travel, remittances, and migration in May, pledging that the United States would do more to support the fledgling private sector in Cuba.

Those announcements, however, have been too slow to materialize, said Paul Johnson, leader of the US-Cuba Agricultural Coalition, an organization of more than 100 members that include agricultural entities, corporations and growers.

US farmers in Havana

Paul Johnson, chair of the United States Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC), talks with Frank Castaneda, President of the Cuban Agricultural Business Group during a conference in Havana, Cuba, April 4, 2023. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

“We are losing and we are tired of losing,” Johnson told reporters after the opening of a trade forum in Havana.

Little has changed on the island since a similar group of farmers from the United States landed last April. Many farms have been closed due to a lack of investment, equipment, fuel, and other inputs, which has contributed to a food shortage in Cuba.

“It’s frustrating for us in the United States, because I think it’s something we can fix. We have to go back to our government… and insist that the private sector is a path forward for development,” he said.

“We are capitalists. We invest in private businesses all over the world. Why can’t we do it in Cuba?” he asked.

In August 2021 the Cuban government lifted a ban on private businesses in place since 1968. More than 7,000 of these small private businesses have opened since then, according to the Ministry of Economy and Planning.

The Cold War-era US embargo on Cuba, which prohibits some trade and financing between the two countries, continues to complicate investment ties. (Reporting by Nelson Acosta)