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White House threat blocks legislation on exports to Cuba

When will we ever learn? In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt barred the sale of oil to Japan. Some believe the action directly or indirectly led to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

In 1971, President Nixon embargoed shipments of wheat to the Soviet Union and soybeans to Japan. The moves just annoyed the Soviets and Japan helped Brazil get in the soybean business.

In 1980, President Carter stopped wheat shipments to the Soviet Union to protest the invasion of Afghanistan. U.S. farmers lost sales of 17 million metric tons of wheat valued at $2.3 billion. The Soviet Union remained in Afghanistan for another 10 years.

After the first Gulf War, the United States and its allies placed sanctions on the government of Saddam Hussein. By all accounts, Hussein got richer selling oil out the back door, and 500,000 Iraqis died. Twelve years later, the United States invaded Iraq because the sanctions weren't working.

During most of that time, the United States barred any trade with Fidel Castro's Cuba. The 40-year-old embargo was relaxed somewhat when Congress passed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, but the Bush administration has been trying to tighten the rules.

Farm groups are supporting legislation that would block enforcement of the Treasury Department's payment-in-advance requirement for shipments to Cuba. But the provision was pulled from the fiscal 2006 Transportation, Treasury appropriations bill conference after President Bush threatened to veto it.

USA Rice Federation officials, who lobbied hard for the legislation, say U.S. rice sales to Cuba have declined 25 percent by volume and 45 percent by value since the Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control rules went into effect last February.

A USA Rice trade delegation concluded sales of 130,000 metric tons of rough and milled rice to Cuba in August, but Cuban officials, who have never failed to pay for any purchases from the United States, were clearly upset with the new rules.

“Though we are disappointed the Cuba language was stricken from the final bill, USA Rice is committed to continue its aggressive efforts to work with other agricultural groups and our congressional supporters to remove an unfair, anti-business scheme that over-regulates congressionally authorized trade,” said USA Rice Chairman Lee Adams.

The OFAC legislation was one of the few issues with what passes for bipartisan support these days. Such ideologically diverse members as Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., both supported it.

This is not just about Cuba, of course. The administration continues to be fixed on the Cuban-American vote in south Florida. That near-obsession prompted House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson to note recently that the administration has yet to make good on promises to help farmers hurt by the hurricanes and other 2005 disasters when it responded to last year's Florida hurricanes in a matter of days.

But then we don't seem to learn from our mistakes, do we?

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