Just Foreign Policy News
July 14, 2010
Vote: Dumbest Mistake in a "South of the Border" Review!
The Oliver Stone documentary, "South of the Border" takes aim at the media for its misinformed and misleading coverage of Latin America. The film includes clips from CNN, network news programs, the New York Times, Fox News, and other media to demonstrate just how bad the coverage can be. But a host of reviews of "South of the Border" serve as additional examples, getting countries and presidents mixed up with each other, confusing democratic elections with coups d’etat, and other errors. What do you think is the dumbest mistake in a "Border" review so far? Vote in the poll!
New York Times Video: Growing Up in Gaza
South of the Border, scheduled screenings:
Oliver Stone’s documentary shows you the South America the New York Times doesn’t want you to see.
Support the Work of Just Foreign Policy
Your financial support allows us to educate Americans about U.S. foreign policy and to create opportunities for Americans to advocate for U.S. policies that are more just.
1) Most Americans want a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, CBS reports. 54% think the U.S. should set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. 41% percent disagree. 73% of Democrats think the U.S. should set a timetable, while only 32% of Republicans say the U.S. should do so. 54% of independents want a timetable.
2) Gen. Petraeus is pushing to have the Haqqani network, a component of the Afghan Taliban, designated by the State Department as a terrorist group, the New York Times reports. The move could complicate an eventual Afghan political settlement with the Taliban and aggravate political tensions in the region, the Times notes. Some officials in Washington and in the region expressed concerns that imposing sanctions on the entire network might drive away some fighters who might be persuaded to lay down their arms. Afghan President Karzai is pressing to reconcile with all the insurgent groups as a way to end the war.
3) Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, ranking Republican on the Senate appropriations subcommittee responsible for military construction funding, wants to cut funding for the construction of foreign military bases, Army Times reports. "We are looking at $1 billion in foreign construction that we do not need," said Sen. Hutchison. Hutchison cited decisions to spend money in Europe, Korea and Guam, and vowed to try to get that money stripped from the construction budget. [The U.S. military buildup in Guam – widely controversial there – is linked to the transfer of a U.S. base within Okinawa, also widely opposed there – JFP.] "We have invested more than $14 billion to build housing, training and deployment capabilities at major military installations [in the U.S.], and we have proved we can best train and deploy from the United States," Sen. Hutchison said. In the 2011 budget, Hutchison said the Defense Department is asking for "expensive and in some cases duplicative" construction projects that often are more costly than building in the U.S. and create construction jobs overseas rather than at home.
4) Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich says the war in Afghanistan "is not going to end well," the Des Moines Register reports. The counter-insurgency strategy Gen. Petraeus used in Iraq does not translate to the mountains and culture of Afghanistan, Gingrich said. "I think we are in enormous danger because we consistently underestimate how hard this is," Gingrich said. Petraeus’ "counter-insurgency doctrine doesn’t go deep enough for some place like Afghanistan. You’re dealing with Afghan culture that is fundamentally different than us, in ways we don’t understand."
5) A spate of attacks killed eight U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Washington Post reports. So far this month, 45 NATO troops, including 33 Americans, have died in Afghanistan, according to AP.
6) Afghan officials said an Afghan soldier killed three British soldiers in a premeditated attack, the New York Times reports. The attack is sure to further dampen backing for the war in Britain, where support has waned as casualties have risen sharply, the Times says.
7) A three-year blockade by Israel and Egypt has locked Palestinians in Gaza and crushed what there was of a formal local economy, and the bitter rivalry between Palestinian factions has divided families and caused a severe shortage of electricity, Michael Slackman and Ethan Bronner report in the New York Times. Scores of interviews and hours spent in people’s homes over a dozen consecutive days here produced a portrait of a fractured and despondent society unable to imagine a decent future for itself as it plunges into listless desperation and radicalization.
8) Israeli bulldozers destroyed six buildings in East Jerusalem, resuming the demolition of Palestinian property, AP reports. No houses had been razed in the eastern sector since last October, and the demolitions seemed to indicate a shift from the unofficial freeze that Israel imposed on them after much criticism from the Obama administration.
9) A Libyan ship carrying aid for Palestinians entered the Egyptian port of El Arish after Israel’s navy warned it away from blockaded Gaza, Reuters reports. "Medical supplies and passengers will enter Gaza through the Rafah border, while food will enter through the Awja border," an Egyptian official said.
10) Russia’s energy minister announced a broad program of cooperation with Iran in the oil, natural gas and petrochemical industries that appeared to invite Russian companies to contravene unilateral U.S. sanctions, the New York Times reports. But it was unclear how immediately any action would be taken, the Times says.
11) An Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared a year ago headed back to Iran, telling Iranian media he was abducted by CIA agents, AP reports. The U.S. says he was a willing defector who changed his mind.
12) A coalition of interests including the Texas Farm Bureau is pushing Congress to lift some export restrictions to Cuba and remove a travel ban, the New York Times reports. Southern farmers believe their proximity to Cuba and their history as one of its biggest food suppliers would make them natural exporters to the island. Rice farmers in particular have a great deal at stake in the legislation. Cuba gets much of its rice from Southeast Asia, and farmers believe the Cubans would be quick to switch to American suppliers to cut down on shipping time and freight costs. "They could consume the entire rice crop of Texas and part of Louisiana," said Curt Mowery, a Texas rice farmer. Stephen Pringle, a legislative director at the Texas Farm Bureau who went to Cuba, said he was praised when he returned to Texas. "When you start talking to the average Texas citizen," he said, "all of them would love to go to Cuba."
1) Poll: Most Want Afghanistan Withdrawal Timeline
Stephanie Condon, CBS News, July 13, 2010
Most Americans continue to say things are going badly for the U.S. in Afghanistan, and those assessments are more pessimistic now than they were just two months ago, a new CBS News poll shows. Most Americans also want a timetable for withdrawal from the country.
Today, the poll finds, 62 percent of Americans say the war is going badly, up from 49 percent in May. Just 31 percent say the war in Afghanistan is going well.
Nine years into the war, 33 percent of Americans say they do not want large numbers of U.S. troops in Afghanistan for another year. Twenty-three percent of Americans say they are willing to have troops stay there for one or two more years.
Just 35 percent are willing to have troops stay longer than two years.
Most Americans – 54 percent – think the U.S. should set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Forty-one percent disagree.
There is a partisan divide on the issue: 73 percent of Democrats think the U.S. should set a timetable, while only 32 percent of Republicans say the U.S. should do so. Fifty-four percent of independents want a timetable.
2) U.S. May Label Pakistan Militants as Terrorists
Mark Landler and Thom Shanker, New York Times, July 13, 2010
Washington – The new American military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, is pushing to have top leaders of a feared insurgent group designated as terrorists, a move that could complicate an eventual Afghan political settlement with the Taliban and aggravate political tensions in the region.
General Petraeus introduced the idea of blacklisting the group, known as the Haqqani network, late last week in discussions with President Obama’s senior advisers on Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to several administration officials, who said it was being seriously considered.
Such a move could risk antagonizing Pakistan, a critical partner in the war effort, but one that is closely tied to the Haqqani network. It could also frustrate the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who is pressing to reconcile with all the insurgent groups as a way to end the nine-year-old war and consolidate his own grip on power.
The case of the Haqqani network, run by an old warlord family, underscores the thorny decisions that will have to be made over which Taliban-linked insurgents should win some sort of amnesty and play a role in the future of Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai has already petitioned the United Nations to lift sanctions against dozens of members of the Taliban, and has won conditional support from the Obama administration, so long as these people sever ties to Al Qaeda, forswear violence and accept the Afghan Constitution.
"If they are willing to accept the red lines and come in from the cold, there has to be a place for them," Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said to reporters at a briefing on Tuesday.
From its base in the frontier area near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani is suspected of running much of the insurgency around Kabul, the Afghan capital, and across eastern Afghanistan, carrying out car bombings and kidnappings, including spectacular attacks on American military installations. It is allied with Al Qaeda and with leaders of the Afghan Taliban branch under Mullah Muhammad Omar, now based near Quetta, Pakistan.
But the group’s real power may lie in its deep connections to Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which analysts say sees the Haqqani network as a way to exercise its own leverage in Afghanistan. Pakistani leaders have recently offered to broker talks between Mr. Karzai and the network, officials said, arguing that it could be a viable future partner.
American officials remain extremely skeptical that the Haqqani network’s senior leaders could ever be reconciled with the Afghan government, although they say perhaps some midlevel commanders and foot soldiers could. Some officials in Washington and in the region expressed concerns that imposing sanctions on the entire network might drive away some fighters who might be persuaded to lay down their arms.
3) Senator wants to cut overseas base construction
Rick Maze, Army Times, Tuesday Jul 13, 2010
On the eve of the first efforts in Congress to write a 2011 military construction funding bill, a key Republican claims that the Obama administration seems to be shifting priorities to spend scarce construction money on improving facilities overseas instead of in the U.S. "We are looking at $1 billion in foreign construction that we do not need," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, ranking Republican on the Senate appropriations subcommittee responsible for military construction funding.
Hutchison cited decisions to spend money in Europe, Korea and Guam, and vowed to try to get that money stripped from the construction budget.
She is not talking about shifting the money to construction on military bases in the U.S., but simply cutting the overall budget.
Her remarks come as the House military construction and veterans’ affairs appropriations subcommittee is preparing for a Wednesday morning meeting to approve its version of the 2011 construction budget.
It is expected to total between $14.2 billion, the amount sought by the Obama administration, and $14.6 billion, the amount approved by the House, as part of the 2011 defense authorization bill.
At the end of the Cold War, Hutchison said, the U.S. military adopted a basing strategy that favored putting U.S. troops and their families on domestic bases rather than overseas. Construction projects have been approved by Congress to achieve that goal, she said.
"We have invested more than $14 billion to build housing, training and deployment capabilities at major military installations, and we have proved we can best train and deploy from the United States," she said.
In the 2011 budget, Hutchison said the Defense Department is asking for "expensive and in some cases duplicative" construction projects that often are more costly than building in the U.S. and create construction jobs overseas rather than at home.
4) Newt Gingrich concerned about Afghanistan
Thomas Beaumont, Des Moines Register, July 13, 2010
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich had a sobering analysis of the U.S. military’s mission in Afghanistan during a political visit to Iowa on Monday. Gingrich said in an interview with the Register that the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan "is not going to end well." Gingrich has supported the Obama administration’s recent change in command there.
Gingrich supports Gen. David Petraeus, who last month was chosen to succeed Gen. Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal stepped down after making disparaging comments about the Obama administration that were reported by Rolling Stone magazine.
But the counter-insurgency strategy that Petraeus used in Iraq does not translate to the mountains and culture of Afghanistan, Gingrich said. "I think we are in enormous danger because we consistently underestimate how hard this is," Gingrich said. Petraeus’ "counter-insurgency doctrine doesn’t go deep enough for some place like Afghanistan. You’re dealing with Afghan culture that is fundamentally different than us, in ways we don’t understand."
5) 8 U.S. service members killed in Afghan attacks
Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Wednesday, July 14, 2010; 4:24 PM
Kabul – A spate of attacks that included a bombing outside an Afghan police base in Kandahar city killed eight American troops and three police officers, NATO officials said Wednesday, reflecting stepped-up resistance by the Taliban to coalition efforts to secure southern Afghanistan.
The most brazen attack was an assault Tuesday night at the headquarters of the Afghan National Civil Order Police, a force that recently came to Kandahar to work with NATO troops to secure the city. At about 9 p.m., a car bomb exploded on the base’s perimeter, followed by gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades.
Three U.S. troops were killed, along with five Afghan civilians – including four interpreters – and three police officers, according to NATO and Afghan officials.
[…] Four other U.S. service members died in a bombing attack Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, and a fifth was killed by gunfire. Officials did not immediately offer more information about the location or circumstances of those deaths.
So far this month, 45 NATO troops, including 33 Americans, have died in Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press.
Also Wednesday, the ousted district governor of Marja, Abdul Zahir Aryan, known as Haji Zahir, said that despite being fired this week, he’s "very happy."
[…] Zahir, a minor political figure in what became a major town for the U.S. military, was the centerpiece of what Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal called "government in a box": the plan to seize a Helmand town from the Taliban and quickly install a functioning government. That plan faltered in the face of a determined insurgency and villagers’ wariness about new leadership.
6) Afghan Soldier Kills 3 British Soldiers
Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, July 13, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan – An Afghan soldier killed three British soldiers in a premeditated attack in Helmand Province early Tuesday, and then escaped into the night, Afghan officials said.
The attack in Babaji, near the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, is sure to further dampen backing for the war in Britain, where support has waned as casualties have risen sharply. In recent months, British forces have endured some of the toughest fighting of the nearly nine-year-old war in Helmand, a huge southern province of both desert and lush canal-fed agricultural land that is the country’s opium heartland.
[…] Raising the competence and size of the Afghan Army is a linchpin of the West’s exit strategy from Afghanistan, and the attack on Tuesday underscored not only the unevenness of Afghan troops but also the vulnerability of the Western forces partnered with them. Last November, an Afghan policeman in Helmand killed five British soldiers whom he had been working with, prompting an uproar in Britain.
7) Trapped by Gaza Blockade, Locked in Despair
Michael Slackman and Ethan Bronner, New York Times, July 13, 2010
Gaza City – The women were bleary-eyed, their voices weak, their hands red and calloused. How could they be expected to cook and clean without water or electricity? What could they do in homes that were dark and hot all day? How could they cope with husbands who had not worked for years and children who were angry and aimless?
Sitting with eight other women at a stress clinic, Jamalat Wadi, 28, tried to listen to the mental health worker. But she could not contain herself. She has eight children, and her unemployed husband spends his days on sedatives. "Our husbands don’t work, my kids are not in school, I get nervous, I yell at them, I cry, I fight with my husband," she blurted. "My husband starts fighting with us and then he cries: ‘What am I going to do? What can I do?’ "
The others knew exactly what she meant.
The Palestinians of Gaza, most of them descended from refugees of the 1948 war that created Israel, have lived through decades of conflict and confrontation. Their scars have accumulated like layers of sedimentary rock, each marking a different crisis – homelessness, occupation, war, dependency.
Today, however, two developments have conspired to turn a difficult life into a new torment: a three-year blockade by Israel and Egypt that has locked them in the small enclave and crushed what there was of a formal local economy; and the bitter rivalry between Palestinian factions, which has undermined identity and purpose, divided families and caused a severe shortage of electricity in the middle of summer.
There are plenty of things to buy in Gaza; goods are brought over the border or smuggled through the tunnels with Egypt. That is not the problem.
In fact, talk about food and people here get angry because it implies that their struggle is over subsistence rather than quality of life. The issue is not hunger. It is idleness, uncertainty and despair.
Any discussion of Gaza’s travails is part of a charged political debate. No humanitarian crisis? That is an Israeli talking point, people here will say, aimed at making the world forget Israel’s misdeeds. Palestinians trapped with no future? They are worse off in Lebanon, others respond, where their "Arab brothers" bar them from buying property and working in most professions.
But the situation is certainly dire. Scores of interviews and hours spent in people’s homes over a dozen consecutive days here produced a portrait of a fractured and despondent society unable to imagine a decent future for itself as it plunges into listless desperation and radicalization.
It seems most unlikely that either a Palestinian state or any kind of Middle East peace can emerge without substantial change here. Gaza, on almost every level, is stuck.
8) Israel: Demolitions Resume in Contested East Jerusalem
Associated Press, July 13, 2010
Israeli bulldozers destroyed six buildings in contested East Jerusalem on Tuesday, resuming the demolition of Palestinian property after a halt aimed at encouraging peace talks. Palestinians said at least three structures were homes, but Israel disputed that, saying that all six had been built illegally and that no one was living in them. House demolitions are a volatile issue because Israel sees East Jerusalem as part of its capital city, while Palestinians want it for their future capital. No houses had been razed in the eastern sector since last October, and the demolitions seemed to indicate a shift from the unofficial freeze that Israel imposed on them after much criticism from the Obama administration.
9) Deterred From Gaza, Libyan Ship Enters Egypt Port
Reuters, July 14, 2010
El-Arish, Egypt – A Libyan-chartered ship carrying aid for Palestinians entered the port here on Wednesday, an Egyptian official said, a day after Israel’s navy warned it away from the blockaded Gaza Strip.
The boat was expected to dock and begin unloading cargo, said a port official, Capt. Gamal Abdel Maqsoud. "Medical supplies and passengers will enter Gaza through the Rafah border, while food will enter through the Awja border," he said.
Israel had vowed to turn away or seize the boat rather than let it access Gaza, whose Islamist Hamas leadership the Jewish state wants isolated. Six weeks ago, Israeli naval commandos boarded another aid ship – part of a flotilla seeking to break Israel’s blockade on Gaza – and killed nine Turks on board, setting off an international firestorm of criticism.
10) In Face of U.S. Sanctions, Russia Offers Iran Help in Oil Industry
Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times, July 14, 2010
Moscow – Russia’s energy minister announced a broad program of cooperation with Iran in the oil, natural gas and petrochemical industries on Wednesday that appeared to invite Russian companies to contravene sanctions the Obama administration adopted just two weeks ago.
The sanctions were meant as an additional means of punishing Iran for refusing to unwind its secretive nuclear program after the United States was able to persuade Russia and China to agree to only limited new trade restrictions in a fourth United Nations Security Council resolution against Iran, passed in June. Australia, Canada and Europe also decided to put additional measures against Iran in place.
While clearly intended to discourage the type of investment the Russian minister discussed, the United States sanctions law provides a waiver for companies in countries otherwise seen as cooperating in discouraging Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
[…] Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, voiced opposition to the addition of any sanctions beyond those imposed by the United Nations, and the foreign ministry warned the United States against trying to punish Russian companies under the new unilateral sanctions.
On Wednesday, Russia’s minister of fuel and energy took the most overt stance against the American sanctions so far, announcing the plans for closer cooperation between Russian and Iranian petroleum interests.
The minister, Sergei I. Shmatko, met in Moscow with his Iranian counterpart, Massoud Mir-Kazemi, and issued a joint statement praising "active cooperation between Russian and Iranian companies in the oil, gas and petrochemical sectors, which are developing and widening in their joint work."
But it was unclear how immediately any action would be taken. The Russian statement suggested a working group be formed to identify areas of deeper cooperation in the oil and petrochemical industries, proposed a study of forming a Russian-Iranian joint venture oil company and a bi-national bank to finance such projects. The statement suggested Iran market its crude oil on Russian commodity exchanges.
The oil dealings between the two countries would force the United States into difficult choices only if Russian companies followed through on the broad plans with specific agreements, Cliff Kupchan, a research director at the Eurasia Group, said in a telephone interview.
And this seemed unlikely, at least today, he said, given the recent warming in relations, Russian backing for the United Nations sanctions against Iran and the successful spy swap earlier this month.
Sergei A. Karaganov, a dean of the faculty of international relations at the Higher School of Economics, said Russia interpreted the limited United Nations measures as a symbolic, though important, message to the Iranian leadership, and would resist sanctions that could harm the economic well-being of a wide portion of the Iranian population and add to political turmoil.
The gasoline embargo imposed by the United States could do both, Mr. Karaganov said, possibly angering millions of middle class Iranians who have become reliant on cars.
11) Iranian nuclear scientist says he was kidnapped
Nasser Karimi and Lee Keath, Associated Press, Wednesday, July 14, 2010; 5:16 PM
Tehran, Iran – An Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared a year ago headed back to Tehran on Wednesday, telling Iranian state media that he was abducted by CIA agents who tried to bribe him into speaking out against his homeland. The U.S. says he was a willing defector who changed his mind.
Shahram Amiri’s reappearance broke into the open an often-bizarre intelligence drama. U.S. officials have dismissed accounts of a kidnapping and suggested Amiri returned home because he missed or feared for his family. But much in the case remains mysterious, including the exact circumstances of how the defection fell apart and what information, if any, he provided about Iran’s controversial nuclear program.
[…] In an interview with Iranian state Press TV from the interests section before heading home, Amiri elaborated on his abduction account and denied he was ever a willing defector. "If I had sought asylum (in the U.S.), why did I not take my family out (of Iran)? What was the reason for me to escape Iran and seek asylum without sending my family out first?" he said in the interview, aired Wednesday.
He said he was in the Saudi holy city of Medina when three men in a van posing as fellow pilgrims offered him a ride. "As I sat down, the man in back held a gun toward me and told me to keep quiet," he said. "They took me to a secret place and injected me, and when I woke up I saw myself in a huge airplane" and was taken to America.
There, CIA agents "pressured me to help with their propaganda against Iran," he said, including offering him up to $10 million to talk to U.S. media and claim to have documents on a laptop against Iran.
"I promised myself that I wouldn’t talk against my country at all," Amiri told Press TV. Instead, he said, he tried to string the CIA along, letting them settle him in Tucson, where he suggested he had relative freedom there on the condition "I not talk about my abduction or what happened afterward."
But after they discovered he had made the first video, in April, "they relocated me from Tucson to Virginia with guards all around me and until this moment, I’ve been monitored by armed agents."
"They put more psychological pressure on me. They told me they would kill me … . They threatened me every time," Amiri said.
U.S. officials would say little about the circumstances of Amiri’s defection and what went wrong. But there were suggestions that threats to his family in Iran pushed Amiri to first make the claims he was kidnapped. Amiri had originally "left his family behind, that was his choice," said a U.S. official who was briefed on the case, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to talk publicly about the case.
Vincent Cannistraro, a retired CIA officer, said he believes Amiri was not recruited by the CIA but volunteered to provide information to the agency about Iran’s nuclear program over a period of years before he came to the U.S. Cannistraro said he believed that after Amiri’s defection, the Iranian government threatened to harm his son as leverage to get him back to Tehran.
12) Farm Groups Push Congress to Ease Exports to Cuba
Yeganeh June Torbati, New York Times, July 13, 2010
Washington – Billy Bob Brown, a farmer in Panhandle, Tex., grows enthusiastic when he discusses his 2008 trip to Cuba, where he and three partners showed off Texas sausages, cakes and frozen desserts to Cuban tourism executives.
Mr. Brown, who is on the board of directors of the Texas Farm Bureau, has fond memories of the Cubans’ industriousness and kindness toward his group, and of their interest in importing American products. "I’d look forward to going back as an opportunity to bring Texas agricultural goods back to Cuba," said Mr. Brown, 71, who grows wheat, corn, cotton and grain sorghum on his 3,000-acre farm.
He could get that chance if a coalition of interests including the Texas Farm Bureau persuades Congress to lift some export restrictions to Cuba and remove a travel ban that has lasted decades. The House Agriculture Committee approved a bill to accomplish that last month, and the full House could vote on the bill before the end of the summer.
To a large extent, the success of the pro-export lobby – which includes the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Farmers Union and state farm groups – will depend on its ability to reframe the debate over Cuba in terms of American national interest, rather than the stickier issues related to human rights concerns, opposition to Communism or the government of Raúl Castro.
To the extent that they do concern themselves with Cuba’s internal politics, groups that favor increased exports and travel argue that greater American influence would nurture any Cuban democratic aspirations.
[…] Southern farmers and the trade groups that represent them believe their proximity to Cuba and their history as one of its biggest food suppliers would make them natural exporters to the island. "In this day and age, we’re looking for any kind of market that we can re-establish," said Curt Mowery, a rice farmer in Sandy Point, Tex., who went on the 1999 Farm Bureau trip. The Cubans, Mr. Mowery said, "like rice, and they like American rice."
But Florida’s role in George W. Bush’s presidential victory in 2000 and the vocal Cuban-Americans in the Miami area that back the embargo ensured that President Bush would not ease the restrictions, even if some of the calls to do so were coming from Texas, his home state.
"For the eight years that President Bush was there, we basically put Cuba trade on the back burner simply because we knew we didn’t have a chance to get anything done," said Stephen J. Pringle, a legislative director at the Texas Farm Bureau who was also on the 1999 trip.
[…] Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, has pledged to block a Senate version of the bill, though Senator Michael B. Enzi, Republican of Wyoming, and Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, say they have enough votes to overcome a filibuster.
Rice farmers in particular have a great deal at stake in the legislation. Even under the Bush administration, they were able to ship some rice to Cuba, but the amount depended on how strictly the Treasury Department interpreted financing restrictions. In 2004, rice producers in the United States shipped $64 million worth of rice to Cuba. After the administration more stringently applied rules requiring advance cash payment, rice exports dropped to $24 million in 2007. In 2008 they were less than $7 million, and in 2009, rice farmers sent nothing.
Cuba gets much of its rice from Southeast Asia, and farmers believe the Cubans would be quick to switch to American suppliers to cut down on shipping time and freight costs. "They could consume the entire rice crop of Texas and part of Louisiana," Mr. Mowery said. The USA Rice Federation estimates that if export restrictions were lifted, American farmers could eventually send 400,000 to 600,000 metric tons of rice to Cuba every year.
Far from being criticized at home for spending time with Mr. Castro, Mr. Pringle said he was praised when he returned to Texas. "When you start talking to the average Texas citizen," he said, "all of them would love to go to Cuba."
Just Foreign Policy
Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans.