As tensions mounted in a rare joint news conference between President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana on Monday, U.S. Secretary Tom Vilsack was making headway with Cuba’s Minster of Agriculture Gustavo Rodriguez-Rollero.
The two signed an agreement that promises to strengthen agriculture cooperation and ties between the two countries even as the top executive officers of the two nations publicly wrestled over issues like human rights and a long-standing U.S. embargo on the island nation.
Neither Obama nor Castro held back when they publicly criticized each others’ policies at the press conference, Obama insisting human rights violations needed to improve before relations between Cuba and the U.S. could be finally normalized while Castro criticized the U.S. embargo as a move that has caused great suffering of the Cuban people and insisted the U.S. has its own human rights problems.
But while the two top leaders spared amid a pretense of cooperation, Vilsack and Cuban agricultural officials were paving the way for greater cooperation on issues of agricultural research, climate change and trade issues between the two nations.
Vilsack said one of the major breakthroughs for the trip include USDA’s agreement to allow the 22 industry-funded Research and Promotion Programs and 18 Marketing Order organizations to conduct authorized research and information exchange activities with Cuba.
These groups, which are responsible for creating bonds with consumers and businesses around the world in support of U.S. agriculture, will be able to engage in cooperative research and information exchanges with Cuba about agricultural productivity, food security and sustainable natural resource management.
“The agreement represents a significant step forward in strengthening our bond and broadening agricultural trade between the United States and Cuba,” Vilsack told reporters following a Havana meeting Monday. “Recognizing the importance of agriculture in the United States and Cuba, USDA is advancing a new partnership for the 21st century between our two countries.”
Vilsack said the two neighboring countries share common climate and agriculture related concerns, and the measures announced Monday will mutually benefit the Cuban people and U.S. farmers and ranchers.