HAVANA - With pressure mounting to open up trade between the United States and Cuba, a leading anti-embargo group on Monday reported that U.S. farmers lose an estimated $1.24 billion annually because of sanctions against the communist nation.
A study commissioned by the Washington-based Cuba Policy Foundation estimated that America is missing out on up to $3.6 billion more in related economic activity because of the 40-year-old U.S. embargo.
"Isolation has not led to reform and it's costing farmers and drug companies that want to do business," said Sally Grooms Cowal, foundation president and the former U.S. diplomat who housed Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez during the last part of his stay in America.
"This study should encourage Congress to take some steps if only to help out American farmers," Cowal said by telephone on Sunday.
Established last year, the foundation describes itself as a nonpartisan, centrist organization that believes changing America's Cold War era policies toward Cuba are in the U.S. national interest. Foundation leaders say ending U.S. trade and travel restrictions could stimulate democratic reform in this still closed society.
Grooms is among hundreds of American policy makers and business people who have traveled to Cuba in the past month to explore possibilities for rapprochement between the two countries, which have had no diplomatic relations for four decades.
The recent arrival here of ships laden with American wheat, rice, corn and poultry have whetted the appetites of Cuban officials and U.S. farm groups for increased agricultural trade. Continuing through the end of February, the deliveries are the first direct commercial sales of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba in nearly four decades.
Cuba agreed to buy the American food to replenish its reserves after Hurricane Michelle struck the island in early November. Previously, Cuban officials had refused to buy any food under a U.S. law that went into effect in 2000, saying that restrictions on American financing were insulting.
But Cuba now says it may buy more food if it gets more encouraging signs from Washington.
The foundation hopes the study's findings will help increase momentum on Capitol Hill to change policies and give Cuba the signs it is looking for.
Cowal said that removing the existing U.S. ban on travel by Americans to Cuba will be as important as easing trade policies.
"If we flood Cuba with Americans, we flood Cuba with American and democratic values," said Cowal. "(Current President) George Bush has said many times that free trade leads to democracy."
A former career diplomat who was ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago under President Bush's father, Cowal noted that the U.S. government never barred Americans from traveling to the former Soviet Union.
"I'm optimistic that Congress will vote to lift the travel ban this year," said Cowal.
"If the embargo were lifted, the average American farmer would feel a difference in his or her life within two to three years," the report's co-author, C. Parr Rosson, professor of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University, said in a statement that the foundation released with an advance copy of the report.
Rossen conducted the study, "Economic Impacts of U.S. Agricultural Exports to Cuba," with his colleague at Texas A&M, Flynn Adcock.
Copyright 2002 Associated Press