by michael wilkey
A state senator from Wynne said he is leaving today for a trip to Cuba,
a trip he says could help Arkansans in the future.
Sen. Jim Luker, D-Wynne, said the 3-day trade mission he is going on
with Gov. Mike Beebe; Arkansas Department of Economic Development
official Maria Haley; Morril Harriman, Beebe's chief of staff; and
officials with Riceland Foods and Tyson Foods has potential.
"Rice is a major part of our agriculture, and Cuba was once a major
market for us (before the October 1960 embargo with the communist
country was enforced)," Luker said.
Luker, who represents Cross County as part of his Senate district, said
Riceland Foods, Tyson Foods and consumers would benefit if the embargo
"We hope the (Obama) administration will liberalize trade with Cuba and
foster trade," Luker said. "It is a potential major market for rice and
Luker said under current standards, processed poultry can be sent to
Cuba, and the sale of food stock is allowed.
The trade of both items could lead to both Arkansas-based products being
sent there, Luker said.
"There are fruits and vegetables; and there is a large production of
sweet potatoes in my district," Luker said. "But rice and chicken, they
In 2007, the Caribbean nation had a gross domestic product of about $47
billion, with the average monthly salary for people that year being
about $17, according to the U.S. Department of State.
The State Department also lists the United States as the fifth-largest
exporter of items to Cuba, behind Venezuela, China, Spain and Germany.
In discussing the embargo, Luker said the issue has strong sentiment in
Florida, where a large number of Cuban immigrants live.
"A lot of the sentiment involves people who fled Cuba in 1960," Luker
said. "It plays a major role in Florida politics, but I am not sure on
the effect in the rest of the country."
Those who oppose lifting the embargo say the government, now run by Raul
Castro, has limited freedoms for citizens.
The State Department also notes on its Web site that the Cuban
government places severe limits on freedom of speech and press, freedom
of assembly and limiting certain economic freedoms.
However, Luker said the United States has begun trading with countries
that once were enemies of this country.
"We do business with a lot worse folks," Luker said. "Just look at
Vietnam. We were in a war with them. We had a war with Russia and China
for many years and we trade with them."
The group will meet with Cuban officials tonight for dinner and for
three meetings on Wednesday.
The trip concludes Thursday.
Jonesboro Sun (28 July 2009)