Cuba Embargo for Food Sales To Ease

Tuesday, June 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional critics of Fidel Castro reached agreement with farm-state House members early Tuesday to allow sales of U.S. food to Cuba for the first time in nearly four decades.

The milestone deal, which was reached after a marathon 5 1/2 -hour negotiating session, would bar both the federal government and U.S. banks from financing such sales.

Rep. George Nethercutt, a Washington Republican who has been pushing to ease the 38-year-old trade embargo on Cuba, said the agreement was a ``huge breakthrough for our farmers,'' noting that Cuba could get financing from another country to buy U.S. food.

But Cuban-American Rep. Ileana Ross-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said the legislation would ``make it as difficult as possible'' for such sales to take place.

``We believe that what Castro has wanted is access'' to U.S. financial markets, she said. ``He's not going to get any of that.''

The dispute over whether to weaken the 38-year-old embargo has stalled passage of an agricultural appropriations bill for a month.

A provision attached to the bill in May by the House Appropriations Committee would allow private U.S. financing of food sales to Cuba, something that would be forbidden under the agreement reached Tuesday.

The appropriations bill has yet to be approved so the existing Cuba language in it can still easily be changed.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., left the negotiations Monday night before they were over but told reporters outside the meeting room that the Republican leadership would support whatever deal the two sides reached ``within parameters.''

In addition to easing the Cuban embargo, the legislation also would prohibit the president from including food and medicine in future embargoes of other countries without congressional approval.

It was not immediately clear whether the trade provisions would be left in the agricultural bill or put in another appropriations measure, Nethercutt said.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly last year to ease the Cuban embargo but the House refused to go along. Senators were not involved in negotiating Tuesday's agreement.

The issue has been complicated by election-year politics this year and the saga of Elian Gonzalez, the boy who has been the subject of a legal tug-of-war between his Florida relatives and his father in Cuba.

Some of the legislation's most ardent supporters, such as Nethercutt and Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo. face tough re-election races. Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, who leads the GOP congressional campaign effort, paid a visit to the negotiations Monday night.

House Republican Whip Tom DeLay had strongly opposed any weakening of the embargo but he had left it up to Castro critics Ross-Lehtinen and Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., to negotiate a deal, aides said.

The Clinton administration has not taken a stand on easing the embargo but has objected to the provision in the legislation that would give Congress a say in future embargoes.