Skip to comments.Companies aim for Cubans' cupboards
Posted on 09/27/2002 7:38:26 AM PDT by CHACHI
Companies aim for Cubans' cupboards By Vanessa Bauzá Havana Bureau September 27, 2002
HAVANA · Sampling California raisins and inquiring about the milk content of Wisconsin cheese, President Fidel Castro on Thursday welcomed the largest group of U.S. business executives to visit communist Cuba in 42 years to the opening day of the first American food fair.
Some 700 executives with hopes of reclaiming the Cuban market are representing 288 companies from 33 states, putting attendance at the U.S. Food and Agriculture Exhibition at twice what organizers expected.
Florida businesses lead the pack with 32 exhibitors.
Naples cattle rancher John Parke Wright, whose family ranch in western Cuba was expropriated by the Castro government after the revolution, is among those who hope to walk away with cash contracts by the time the fair closes Monday.
"Regardless of what happened in the past, this is bridge-building time," said Wright, whose firm once exported 50,000 head of cattle to Cuba annually.
Havana's exhibition hall held once-popular brands that hadn't been seen on the island for decades. Pyramids of Wrigley's Doublemint gum and freezers full of Sara Lee pastries, Jimmy Dean sausage links and Hillshire Farms kielbasa were on display. Inflatable Tabasco sauce bottles bobbed from one company's booth, while another hawked Kentucky tobacco and California merlot wines.
A man dressed as a California raisin strolled the red carpeting along with the Spam mascot, whose canned spiced ham costume included a fan.
"We don't want Spammy to faint," said Shelly Shultz, the Sunrise-based Caribbean sales manager for Hormel, Spam's manufacturer.
Exhibition organizer Peter Nathan, who put together the first U.S. trade fairs in the Soviet Union and China, hoped exhibitors "take back the message that Cuba is a fertile area for American companies to do business." Officials estimate contracts worth up to $50 million could be signed by Monday.
The fair is licensed under legislation that makes food sales legal to Cuba for cash. Cuba has bought about $120 million in U.S. food and agricultural products since November, when its reserves were depleted in the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Michelle.
Although the Bush administration licensed the food fair, the president consistently has backed the U.S. embargo. But momentum to end the restrictions is building. Legislation prohibiting the enforcement of the travel ban and allowing private financing of food sales passed in the House in July. The Senate could take up the bill as soon as this month or next.
Bush has threatened to veto any legislation that would weaken the sanctions. A Bush veto would be the last line of defense for embargo supporters.
"Little by little the difficulty is being overcome," Castro said as he took in the exhibits.
Cuba currently imports about $1 billion of food annually, and officials say that figure could jump to $1.5 billion by 2005. If financing restrictions were lifted, 70 percent of the Cuban market could go to American companies, said Pedro Alvarez, president of Alimport, Cuba's food importing agency.
But on the eve of the exhibition, the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Cuba warned U.S. executives that selling food to Cuba under any terms other than cash is bad business, pointing to the island nation's debts with Canada, Chile and France, among others.
"This is a Jurassic Park economy that's no great market for the United States," said James Cason, head of the U.S. Interests Section. "Cuba owes $11 billion to its international partners; most of that has been recently rescheduled. We don't want to be in that queue of people asking for money."
As he signed the first contract Thursday -- a $10 million agreement for rice, cooking oil and soy with agribusiness giant ADM -- Castro countered: "It seems to me that he [Cason] is an expert on prehistoric things ... for more than 40 years, we have heard the same thing."
Exhibitors kept politics at a distance and focused on trade. Tampa's Reilly Dairy and Food ships yogurt, cheese and milk weekly from the port of Miami to Barbados, Jamaica and the Bahamas in containers that currently skirt the island. It could easily add products destined for Cuba.
"We didn't come with a hard-set goal. We're here to listen and explore," said Paul Cornille, the dairy's director of international sales. "If it becomes a political issue, frankly, we'll probably just back away."
At the Masterfoods Interamerica booth, tempting piles of Milky Way, M&Ms, Snickers and Starburst candies lined the shelves. But regional manager Philippe Bellande had the highest hopes for Uncle Ben's rice, which still enjoys pre-revolution brand recognition, known as Tío Ben.
"Tío Ben was the largest selling brand of rice in Cuba," Bellande said.
Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura was the highest-ranking U.S. official attending the fair.
Ralph Kaehler, a Minnesota livestock breeder, sold the first American shorthorn cattle to China in 1996. On Thursday his pigs, cattle, bulls and sheep -- the first livestock sold to Cuba in 42 years -- were exhibited in an air-conditioned hall.
"As the world is getting smaller, there isn't government we agree with 100 percent," said Kaehler, who runs his father's farm. "I think this show is going to open up a lot of ground. We're very serious about being able to do business with Cuba."
Information from wire services was used to supplement this report.
Vanessa Bauzá can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
A photo in the Sun-Sentinel reveals G. Allen Andreas looking at Castro with adoring eyes.
Does anyone ask: Why? There is a reason, but you will not find it printed in any paper.
The American taxpayers, including Cuban-Americans are going to foot this bill so anxiously awaited by these thugs.
Never mind that President Bush will veto any attempt to lift the embargo, it will pass anyway, and President Bush knows it, but he will tell the Cuban-Americans that it passed against his will.
Do they honestly think that people are that naive? Folks, this is just plain story telling.
Yesterday, on her program (NINOSKA A LA UNA, WQBA 1140 AM) Ninoska Perez Castellon talked to Marta Beatriz Roque, dissident.
Ms Roque explained that Cubans are not paying attention to the Fair that their worries consist of getting enough tablespoons of rice or one egg to feed the children. Ms Roque said that she has not eaten since the day before. That sometimes all they can find for food is so little that parents set it aside for their children and grandchildren.
She continued: We eat, if we are lucky, once a day around 7:30 to 8 PM. Sometimes you go to bed at night with an empty stomach, and you take a "Meprobamato", so you can sleep. "The hunger is so intense that does not let you sleep."
FOR FREEDOM & JUSTICE GROUP http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ForFreedomandJustice
Cubans that came here for good reason don't seem to care about those they left behind.
Fidel is history whether he admits it or not but the Florida Cuban (Americans?) don't want to give up because they want to return to the island and reinstate their control over poor people who deserve better.