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Laurent Alemany, 4, looks at the small amount of powdered milk her mother, Yohana Perdomo, 28, has left in their home in Havana, Cuba on April 16, 2022.

Laurent Alemany, 4, looks at the small amount of powdered milk her mother, Yohana Perdomo, 28, has left in their home in Havana, Cuba on April 16, 2022. (Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

55 Dems Join GOP to Tank Tlaib Amendment Aimed at Helping Cuba Import Food From US

The measure, previously backed by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, would "ease the food shortages in Cuba and help U.S. agricultural producers," said Rep. Rashida Tlaib.

Kenny Stancil

Dozens of House Democrats joined nearly all of their Republican colleagues on Wednesday to vote down an amendment from Rep. Rashida Tlaib that would have made it easier for Cuba to import food grown by U.S. farmers.

Tlaib's (D-Mich.) amendment to H.R. 8294, which funds the Treasury Department and its Office of Foreign Assets Control, would have suspended enforcement of the U.S. government's ban on financing agricultural sales to Cuba. The Caribbean island is currently in the grips of a crushing economic crisis made worse by Washington's 60-year embargo.

The measure has previously been included in several pieces of unpassed legislation, including the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, which had dozens of GOP cosponsors. It is identical to a bipartisan amendment submitted to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill in 2017 but later withdrawn.

Nevertheless, the amendment failed to pass on Wednesday when 205 House Republicans and 55 of their Democratic counterparts, including all 11 of Florida's representatives in the lower chamber of Congress, voted against it. Just one Republican supported the measure, compared with 162 Democrats. Thirteen lawmakers did not vote.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (D-Fla.) issued an impassioned statement celebrating the defeat of what he called a "pro-communist" amendment.

"I am grateful for the support of colleagues on both sides of the aisle who stood with the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom today," said Diaz-Balart. "Because of their firm, bipartisan support, we were able to defeat an amendment that would have extended credit to the Cuban people's oppressors."

Diaz-Balart neglected to mention that 69% of Cuban-Americans in Miami support selling food to the Caribbean island, according to a poll conducted in 2020 by researchers at Florida International University.

Ahead of the vote, Tlaib thanked Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chair of the Rules Committee, for backing her amendment to "ease the food shortages in Cuba and help U.S. agricultural producers."

"This common-sense legislation, which has been supported from both sides of the aisle and by agriculture groups nationwide for well over a decade, would create thousands of farm jobs in the United States while providing desperately needed food at lower cost for the Cuban people," Meeks and McGovern said in a statement Tuesday.

"Today, Cuba faces its most devastating economic crisis in thirty years, forcing tens of thousands of Cuban people to spend hours in line waiting for food each and every day," the lawmakers continued. "In the past six months, we have seen a surge of Cubans fleeing to the U.S.-Mexico border. This amendment would help ease the economic burden by suspending U.S. farm export regulations and extending credit to Cuban food buyers for one year."

"Farmers across the United States have urged action to permit greater sales from the U.S. for years, and with hunger rising across Cuba, the time is right to enact a temporary suspension that would provide them new opportunities to expand their exports to this market of 11 million people," added the pair.

While Meeks and McGovern expressed hope "that both parties can once again come together and support this win-win amendment," it didn't happen on Wednesday.

Even Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) voted against Tlaib's amendment despite the fact that it is virtually indistinguishable from the one he introduced in 2017.

"Under current law, U.S. producers are already permitted to export agricultural commodities to Cuba, but they must do so on a cash-for-crop basis," Crawford explained five years ago. "A cash-only requirement renders export transactions nearly impossible, as foreign importers almost exclusively do business on financing and credit."

"For that reason," said Crawford, "Cubans are forced to buy agricultural products from across the Pacific Ocean" when they could be purchasing food grown in the U.S.

In July 2017, Crawford withdrew his amendment to appropriations legislation that would have opened Cuba's $1 billion food market to U.S. farmers, citing "a strong commitment from House leadership and members from the South Florida delegation that we will pursue a long-term solution that will open up agriculture trade permanently."

As Just Foreign Policy pointed out Wednesday on social media, a half-decade has passed "without any change."

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