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Published June 29, 2010, 01:06 PM

Cuban activists weigh in

WASHINGTON — Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., recently released a letter from 494 pro-democracy Cuban activists opposing the bill introduced by House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas and others to end the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba and to ease U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., recently released a letter from 494 pro-democracy Cuban activists opposing the bill introduced by House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas and others to end the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba and to ease U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.

Recently, a group of 74 Cuban dissidents released a letter urging passage of the legislation, saying the presence of American travelers would help their cause and that the food imports would ease hunger.

Opposition

But the letter from the second group of dissidents opposed the bill, saying “The freedom of Cuba will not arrive by means of the pocket-book nor the lips of libidinous tourists, who are aseptic to the pain of the Cuban family.”

Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, who said that the first letter could be “a game changer” in convincing members of Congress to vote for the letter, said in an e-mail June 17 that, “Obviously, we believe that ending the travel ban and increasing food sales to Cuba is in America’s interests, and it’s significant that 74 of Cuba’s most prominent dissidents, those who confront Cuba’s reality every day, agree that this is also the right thing to do for the Cuban people.”

The e-mail goes on: “What [Rep. Diaz-Balart] and the other defenders of the status quo can’t deny is that our policy has not produced any progress toward democracy or human rights, and it is now time to move things forward by changing the policy, ending the travel ban, selling Cuba more food, and sending more American visitors to Cuba’s streets to meet the hunger of average Cubans for more information and contact.”

A spokeswoman for House Agriculture Chairman Peterson, who said that the 74 dissidents’ letter should convince members to vote for his bill, declined to comment on the second letter.

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