Fidel's Appetite for U.S. Food (WSJ)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at
Wed Aug 14 07:32:45 MDT 2002

(The convergence of capitalism's
own current moral troubles, the
material self-interest U.S. business,
the obvious contradiction between
U.S. trade with China and Vietnam,
and the removal of the USSR as
an excuse all undercut rationales
for keeping the blockade. Little is
left in their argumentional arsenal
beyond "terrorism" and "spying".

(The crude links between the Bush
administrations, in Washington and
Florida, and the ultra-rightist Cuban
exile minority is finally seeing a bit
of the light of day.

(Since there's no evidence for the
"terrorism" claims, and the truth
that Washington has permitted
terrorist attacks on Cuba to be
launched from U.S. soil for over
forty years, is beginning to be
understood in the U.S., blockade
support falling with each day.)

Walter Lippmann

Fidel's Appetite for U.S. Food
Is More Than a Hill of Beans


HAVANA -- G. Allen Andreas brought more than wine
when he had dinner with Fidel Castro.

Along with some California Cabernet, the chief of
agricultural giant Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. toted cooking
oil and three boxes of ADM's soy-enhanced pasta. While
serving his guests roast pig and lobster tails, the Cuban
president ordered his chef to whip up a bowl of the noodles
with red sauce.

"The guy loved it," says Tony DeLio, ADM's chief of
marketing, who attended the four-hour dinner in late April.
"He ate three servings."

Feeding Fidel Castro has become the hot new product
placement among U.S. politicos and corporate bosses. They
are streaming to Havana to cut export deals made possible
two years ago with a law that allowed U.S. sales of food and
medicine on a cash-only basis. Business began to take off
late last year as the Cuban government saw a lever for
eventually lifting the 40-year U.S. ban on doing any trade
with the country.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, dropped in on
Mr. Castro in January with a bag of her state's apples. That
prompted an order from Cuba's food-import agency for 1,000
tons of apples -- "as juicy as the ones we had the
opportunity to try" -- plus 3,000 tons of Washington peas.
The U.S. Dry Pea and Lentil Council cheered the deal on its
Web site: "Bring on the Cuban cigars! Let's sell some peas!"

After once vowing that he wouldn't buy "a single grain of
rice" from the U.S., Mr. Castro has spent $110 million in
cash so far this year for chicken legs, eggs, wheat, all
kinds of dry legumes and lots of rice. Among the 180
countries that import food from the U.S., Cuba was dead last
in 2000. This year it has rocketed to No. 54 as Mr. Castro
sows support across the Farm Belt for ending the embargo.

The Bush administration says it will do nothing to help or
hinder the food sales, but top officials aren't keen to see
the embargo loosened any further. The Cuban government,
meanwhile, is milking the new relationship. Besides looking
to erode the embargo, Havana officials get much-needed
foodstuffs cheaper from nearby America, even if it means
delaying payments for food bought on credit from many other
international suppliers.

Mr. Castro, 76 years old, declined to be interviewed, but
his man in Havana in charge of the purchases said the
presidential drop-bys are appreciated. "It's good that
companies are bringing samples," says Pedro Alvarez, who
runs Alimport, the government agency that buys food from
abroad. "But of course the president doesn't eat everything
he's given."

ADM's Mr. DeLio says the president, who has been the target
of poisoning attempts, laughed at his own rashness while
eating the soy noodles and said, "If I'm going to go, I'm
going to go."

Dozens of states and hundreds of companies are now gearing
up for a big, four-day U.S. food exposition next month in
Havana. Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura says he'll attend. The
Cubans have promised multimillion-dollar deals.

At least 10 states are feuding over which of them will get
to host top Cuban officials at one of three big dinners
scheduled. North Dakota plans to fly down three buffaloes to
compete with the dairy cows, hogs and chickens that other
states are sending.


Read selected excerpts from the new anthology
"Floating Off the Page: The Best of The Wall Street
Journal's 'Middle Column.' "

Among the companies vying for deals, show sponsor ADM has
designed a 1950s-style diner to serve soy burgers and
shakes. David Radlo, president of Massachusetts-based Radlo
Foods LLC, says he will send a man in a large egg outfit to
the expo to help serve up breakfasts.

Mr. Radlo recently shipped half a million eggs to Havana,
including some "cage-free" organic brown eggs, which were
forwarded to Mr. Castro. At a one-on-one meeting with the
Cuban leader a week later, Mr. Radlo says Mr. Castro
described how his chefs turned the eggs into flan and how he
ate some for breakfast, first over easy and then sunny side
up. "He said that with the sunny side ups, the yolks held
their form in an amazing way," Mr. Radlo says.

Not everyone wooing Mr. Castro has cashed in. California
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer brought some California lima
beans and several bottles of Sonoma Chardonnay to her dinner
in April with the Cuban leader. "The beans went over in a
big way," her spokesman says. Even so, the Cubans have yet
to order a single bean or anything else from California,
although state officials say they may be close to a garlic

U.S. Food Firms Consider
Participating in Cuba Trade Fair

Cuba's total food imports -- about $1 billion a year and
growing -- are relatively modest. But Eric Aasmundstad, head
of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, says that if Cuba bought
all its spring wheat from North Dakota, it would be the
state's fourth- or fifth-biggest export market for wheat.

Mr. Aasmundstad was in Havana with North Dakota Gov. John
Hoeven, only the second U.S. governor to visit Cuba since
the early 1960s.

At Mr. Alvarez's office at Alimport, Gov. Hoeven and his
group huddled in a room decorated with plastic ferns and
prints of happy peasants. After hours of sometimes prickly
negotiations, the two sides signed an agreement to sell the
Cubans more than $2 million of chickpeas, barley, lentils
and peas -- enough to fill 128 rail cars.

North Dakota also sent 20 tons of wheat, barley and peas by
ship, a $4 million sale. While Gov. Hoeven was there, Cuban
officials opened the wheat shipment at dawn one morning,
whisked some off to a mill, and turned it into bread for a
nine o'clock meeting at the Cuban Ministry of Food. Food
Minister Alejandro Roca praised the loaves for having plenty
of "good gluten."

Write to Neil King Jr. at neil.king at

Updated August 14, 2002

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