Congress, business may help on embargo, Cuban envoy says

Wednesday, April 18, 2001

The Cuban government is looking past the Bush
administration to Congress, U.S. business and the public in its pursuit of an end to America's four-decade-long embargo, Cuba's top diplomat in Washington said Tuesday.

``As Cubans, we're optimistic,'' Fernando Remírez, chief of the Cuban Interests Section, said on the 40th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion. But when asked what he expects from the Bush administration, he paused, then said: ``Not much.''
``Our expectations are from the other sectors of the American people . . .with a growing number of institutions, private companies who really express their interest in Cuba,'' he told a Federal City Club luncheon. ``There's a growing number of Americans who are traveling down there. We think that it is a good signal.''

Cuba's 11.2 million people stand ready to buy everything they can from the United States, Remírez said. The country would save millions of dollars if they could buy rice from U.S. growers instead of having it shipped from Asia through the Panama Canal. Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., sponsored legislation last year aimed at easing the U.S. embargo by allowing the sale of American food to Cuba for the first time in 40 years. The legislation was approved by Congress andsigned by President Clinton.

Supporters hailed the measure as a victory for American farmers, but Cuban authorities said they would buy no American food under the law because its amendments bar the U.S. government and U.S. banks from financing sales.
Since Cuba belongs to no international financial institutions, Remírez said, ``All payments must be in cash, which is very difficult.'' The law also tightened restrictions on Americans' travel to Cuba.

Remírez said the law's conditions on sales ``make it almost impossible to have any.'' ``But there are many people here in the United States, including many members of the Congress who say they will try to change these conditions to make this possible,'' he added.