Can Agricultural Cooperation Strengthen U.S.-Cuba Normalization?

Despite the growing public support for U.S.-Cuba normalization, the recent steps to rebuild bilateral ties between Washington and Havana have been led and implemented by the executive branch. The Departments of State, Commerce, and Treasury, the White House's National Security Council—these have been the agents of change. Congress has yet to truly take up this issue and still seems unlikely to address it in a way consistent with its growing support among the American public. Only Congress can repeal the Helms-Burton Act. Only Congress can fully dismantle the embargo, despite the president’s efforts to chip away at it. Only Congress can confirm an ambassador to lead the U.S. embassy that reopened in Havana last summer.
Bilateral cooperation can go so much further, and agriculture may be the place to start. Opening access to agricultural production equipment and chemicals—not just the food they eventually produce—could provide Cuba with the overdue opportunity to modernize its agricultural sector and dramatically increase its productivity. Meanwhile, American farmers, many of whom have struggled to reduce their own dependence on agricultural chemicals, have lessons to learn from their Cuban counterparts and their own tough transition to chemical-free agriculture. The two countries’ agricultural sectors, which in many ways could not be more different, have so much to learn from each other. And building those bridges is more valuable than ever, given its potential to add tangibly to the progress of bilateral normalization efforts.

Carl Meacham

Former Director, Americas Program

Jillian Rafferty

Research Associate, Human Rights Initiative