Despite four decades of trade sanctions and increasing White House hostility, Cuba has become the United States' 35th market for food exports.
Cuba's purchases of American agricultural products doubled last year, as US agribusiness giants sold more and more grain to the Caribbean island thanks to an easing of the embargo, according to a report by a New York-based business group on Tuesday.
The US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which monitors trade between the two countries, said Cuba imported $256.9 million worth of US agricultural products in 2003.
Since food sales were allowed in 2000, Cuba has moved up from 144th position among US markets, to 50th in 2002 and
35th last year, the council's analysis of US government data said.
The trade surge came as the Bush administration clamped down on travel to Cuba and studied other measures to increase economic pressure on President Fidel Castro's communist-run government.
President George Bush last year appointed a commission to come up with ways to accelerate a transition to democracy in Cuba, where Castro has been in power since a 1959 revolution.
American business groups, meanwhile, have been lobbying for the lifting of a travel ban and further relaxing of the embargo. Both chambers of the US Congress last year voted to end travel restrictions, but Republican leadership scuttled the move in conference.
Pressure on Cuba
"While the Bush administration is trying to intensify pressure on Cuba and sever business links with the Castro government, such an attempt is increasingly at odds with the position of the US business community and its allies in Congress," said University of Florida Cuba analyst Paolo Spadoni.
Bush is pushing for a transition
to democracy in Cuba
"With Cuba's food purchases from the United States up by more than 80% in 2003 after an impressive 2002, it is likely that anti-embargo forces will keep pushing for a lifting of trade and travel restrictions with the island," he said.
Tensions between Washington and Havana continued rising after the Bush administration pulled out of immigration talks, the only regular contacts the two governments have in the absence of diplomatic ties broken off in 1961.
In two speeches this month, Castro charged that Bush was plotting to assassinate him and invade Cuba.
The Cuban leader said Bush's growing hostility was aimed at
winning votes among politically influential Cuban-Americans in the key state of Florida in this year's presidential election.
Florida is home to hundreds of thousands of Cubans, who played a big role in winning the presidency for Bush in 2000.
"While the Bush administration is trying to intensify pressure on Cuba and sever business links with the Castro government, such an attempt is increasingly at odds with the position of the US business community and its allies in Congress"
University of Florida,
The exports, mainly soy, wheat, corn, rice and poultry, but also supermarket products, lumber and newsprint, have led to a growing lobby in the US to broaden trade and travel with Cuba.
The council said Cuban purchases, begun in late 2001, amounted to $400 million through 2003. Cuba pays cash for purchases from the United States, with some financing from non-US banks.
Decatur, Illinois-based Archer Daniels Midland Company, accounted for approximately 50% of the sales, the council said, followed by agribusiness giant Cargill and FCStone, a Minnesota group of farm cooperatives.