Free trade could make a difference

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

As a representative of the oil industry, Darwin Pierson of McCook traveled to Cuba in the mid-1990s as a member of a humanitarian mission. Although conditions were -- and still are -- much more primitive in Cuba than in the United States, Pierson recognized the vast potential Cuba held for trade with the U.S.

It has taken a while to get a plan in motion, but there is now hope that Pierson's vision for increased trade with Cuba will be realized. The plan took a big step forward last week, when the U.S. Senate passed an amendment to the 2004 appropriations bill. The plan, co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, would ensure that Americans doing business and studying in Cuba would not be punished for traveling to the island nation.

Agreeing with Pierson's position, Sen. Hagel said, "It does not serve U.S. interest to isolate ourselves from the people of Cuba. The current U.S. policy places our farmers, workers and companies at an international competitive disadvantage. Nebraska's agriculture producers should have open access to the Cuban market."

This has not existed since Fidel Castro's takeover in Cuba in the 1960s. The strain has been great because of Castro's close ties to communist nations and Cuba's proximity to the United States. The main island, Cuba proper, arches northward to a point only 90 miles from Key West, Fla.

In years past, travel and trade with Cuba was not worth the trouble. Tensions between the two countries were too tense after the Bay of Pigs episode during the Kennedy Administration. But, since then, world conditions have changed.

Following tumulous changes in the former Soviet Union, U.S. trade with Russia now flows freely. The time now appears to be right to lift the trade and travel restrictions with Cuba.

Vast differences between the two countries still exist. Cuba is repressed and socialistic. The United States is dedicated to liberty and freedom.

And, yet, despite the differences, relaxing the trade and travel barriers should be better for both countries. Free trade has dramatically improved conditions between the U.S. and Russia, and it could do the same for relations with Cuba.

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