Davis frustrated with conditions in Cuba

Davis frustrated with conditions in Cuba

Just back from a four-day trade agricultural trade mission to Cuba, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis said today he was frustrated and disappointed with conditions he found in the island nation.

Agricultural exports from the United States to Cuba have dropped in the last seven years and have fallen even more since the Obama administration and Cuba agreed to normalize diplomatic relations.

It was Davis' second trip to Cuba, the first coming 10 years ago when he was on the staff of U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville.

"Since I traveled there 10 years ago, I expected more privatization and more innovation in the country of Cuba and less governmental control," he said. "Unfortunately I didn't see as much as I had hoped. Frankly some things disappointed me when it came to the government and its complete control over most aspects of society."

Davis said Cuban officials blamed the drop in U.S. imports on a provision in U.S. law that requires payments to be made in cash, not credit.

He called it "a flimsy excuse since these provisions have been in place" for years.

He said the cash-only requirement should be lifted by Congress, but admitted that "its going to be difficult" politically to change the law.

"But I think it is an excuse. Quite frankly I don't think they have the cash to actually buy as many products on a worldwide basis because I don't think their government is as flush with cash as they want you to think they are," he said.

He said he thinks Cuba would be a reasonable credit risk.

"We'll never know if they're going to be a worthy credit risk if we don't take that excuse off the table for them," he said. "I heard a lot of excuses down there from government officials as to why they're not moving toward more privatization, why they haven't combined currencies, why they can't buy American ag products when they were just a few years ago. I think it's an opportunity for us to maybe call their bluff on the fact that they say they're a very good credit risk with their other trading partners like Brazil and Argentina."

The Taylorville Republican said he not only pushed for more trade with Illinois farmers, but encouraged Cuban government representatives to combine their currencies.

"Currently there are two types of pesos. There's the Cuban peso that most Cubans are paid in and then there's also the convertible peso called the CUC which I consider the Cuban tourist peso," he said.

For every American dollar cashed in with the tourist peso, Davis said, 13 cents went to the Cuba government.

The tourist peso "was put into place in my opinion to penalize American dollars being spent on the island. And now the Cuban government has a problem. When they want to go back to one currency they've devalued their own currency because of this tourist peso that increasing number of tourists are using."

Davis said he hoped that a privately funded Illinois-Cuba working group office could be opened to further farm trade "in the upcoming years."

He insisted that increased trade with Cuba could become the downfall of Cuba's government.

"I think the only way that we get rid of the Castros and their failed form of socialism is to actually trade with them and to create an economic partner," he said.

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