With inflation in Cuba soaring to 70% in 2021 and food imports dropping from $2 billion pre-pandemic to $11.2 million post-pandemic, Cubans are dealing with a devastating economic collapse that has a plethora of bleak consequences. These consequences have led to a low annual income per capita of just 627 Cuban pesos (or $25 USD) and the worst food shortage crisis since the 90s, The Economist reported in July 2021. H.R. 8294 is a piece of legislation that bans the “financing of agricultural sales to Cuba.” A proposed amendment to this legislation, amendment 137, calls for the termination of this prohibition. Supporters of the amendment state that expanding U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba “would create thousands of farm jobs in the United States while providing desperately needed food at lower prices for the Cuban people.” Apart from shortening hours-long queues of people lining up to access food in Cuba, the amendment would also address hunger in the nation and help the country stabilize overall.
Food Shortages in Cuba
In 2021, Cubans had to become accustomed to long wait times for perishables, with some food queue waiting times as long as up to 12 hours. These food queues are a consequence of sanctions on Cuba, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic instability in the country.
Cuba imports nearly 80% of the country’s food, and as a communist nation, the state pays for these shipments. When Cuban officials had less capital to work with during the pandemic, imports fell to levels not visible since 2009. As administrators stretch beyond their capacity, U.S. efforts have become extremely important.
The Cuban government estimates that America’s embargo in its entirety (from 1962 to today) has cost Cuba more than $144 billion. The U.N. estimates this number at closer to $130 billion though. Sanctions and embargoes have stifled economic growth in Cuba, but with a worsening food crisis, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba are of the utmost importance.
In the 17-year period (1975-1992) when the U.S. allowed Cuba to purchase commodities from “subsidiaries of U.S. companies in third countries,” 90% of the sales each year related to supplies of food and medicine.
U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba served as a major source of the country’s nutritional and medical needs in the past and Cuba still can technically buy food from U.S. companies given an embargo exception made in 2000. But, the U.S. offers no credit for the island nation and only accepts upfront cash payments, making the crucial lifeline of sustenance a mere object of the past. Amendment 137 would offer credit to Cuban consumers so as to make these imports more accessible.
The Possibility of Stability
Supporters of this amendment point toward its potential positive societal impacts as an argument for its adoption. Anti-government protesters marched in Cuba on July 11, 2021, in response to “restrictions on rights, food and medicine scarcity and the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Human Rights Watch reported.
July 2021’s demonstrations are the biggest the country experienced since the 1959 revolution. Police detained more than 1,400 demonstrators and more than 700 of these individuals still endured imprisonment as of July 2022.
U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba will not resolve human rights restrictions or the strict rule of the Cuban government, but it would certainly quell a major upset that citizens have, which is rooted in their unmet basic necessities. The possibility of stabilization thanks to a greater U.S. food supply looks even more promising when considering the catalyst for 2021’s uprising, the failure of authorities to keep the economy at bay.
The previously mentioned Cuban credit line would be open for a year and the termination of existing U.S. agricultural export regulations would complement this. Amendments similar to amendment 137 have been proposed in other pieces of legislation, such as the 2017’s government appropriations bill and the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, which had bipartisan support. However, this amendment was not adopted in H.R. 8294’s first House passage but the proposal still remains on the table as the bill is still awaiting a vote from the Senate.
Amendment 137 in relation to H.R. 8294 could address a lot of the dilemmas Cubans face, from the unbearably long food queues to the instability plaguing the streets. Cuba has demonstrated in the past that it can gain a lot from U.S. business, especially when offered credit to engage with it as Cuba stood as the “ninth-largest export market” for U.S. agriculture pre-1960.
If nations like the U.S. can add stimulus, the resulting benefits would be instrumental for people who have faced a rapidly deteriorating situation over the last two years. Measures like H.R. 8294’s 137th amendment would increase U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba by deregulating U.S. farm exports into Cuba and by offering Cubans credit to afford these new imports. Its adoption would offer Cubans more nutritious food options and make existing food options more accessible. The amendment would play a significant role in the resolve that protestors are requesting, ushering in much-needed stability and peace.
– Jacob Lawhern