Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective
A.V. Krebs Editor\Publisher
Issue #134 November 26 2001
CUBA READIES FOR SECOND "BAY OF PIGS" LANDING not guns, but $$$
It should come as no surprise, much less shock, that the elites of corporate
agribusiness have finally succeeded in establishing an economic
beachhead in Cuba after being shut out of that island country by a 40-year
U.S. embargo in the wake of Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.
These agribusiness giants have been plying Congress with "soft money" and
applying political muscle for decades to ease such trade restrictions so
they could be the first through the door when the U.S. embargo was
ultimately lifted. Now in the name of "humanitarian relief" after the
devastation caused by Hurricane Michelle they have finally got their foot
solidly in the door.
Last week Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM), ConAgra Foods Inc. and
Riceland Foods reached sale agreements with Cuba, and announced deals
worth an estimated total of more than $20 million. John Kavulich, president
of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which monitors business with
the island, said Cuba also is likely to buy poultry from Georgia-based Gold
Kist, Maryland's Perdue Farms and Arkansas' Tyson Foods.
Farmer-owned Riceland Foods Inc., of Stuttgart, Arkansas and Cargill Inc., of
Minneapolis. --- will sell tens of thousands of metric tons of wheat, corn,
soybeans, rice, edible beans and cooking oil. Cargill said it expects to begin
making deliveries in early January. Some of the sales are subject to the
receipt of permits from the U.S. government. The State Department has said
it would support the sales because of their "humanitarian nature."
Cargill will send 20,000 tons of wheat, 19,000 tons of corn and 5,000 tons of
soybean oil to Cuba, which is rebuilding its food supplies after the recent
hurricane. Cargill did not disclose financial terms, but based on current
market prices, the sale is reportedly worth about $5.4 million. While that
amount is relatively insignificant to Cargill, which has annual revenues of
about $50 billion, the company is "hopeful" that the sale is the beginning of
ongoing agricultural trade between the two nations.
Cuba is estimated to want products totaling about $30 million, of which ADM,
Cargill and Riceland appear to have won the largest share.
The most prominent among those corporate agribusinesses who have long
sought to open the lucrative Cuban market has been ADM and its former CEO
and board chairman Dwayne O. Andreas. ADM ("The Nature Of What's to
Come") says it hopes the recent deals lead to further business with Cuba as
the country presently imports $1 billion of foodstuffs from farm powers such
as the European Union and Canada.
As readers of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER are already aware ADM has in the
past hosted officials of Cuba's state-buying agency at its Decatur
headquarters, held talks with President Castro, and donated food to Cuba.
Despite most of the major media's refusing to follow the money in the Elian
Gonzalez story it was ADM who covertly managed that episode in its effort
to curry the Cuban government's favor.
The fact was that the then six-year-old Cuban boy, who was the center of
the highly publicized custody battle between his Cuban father and
Cuban-American relatives in Miami, may well have been nothing but a key
player in such trade and marketing efforts by ADM. Examining some of the
lesser known facts of the controversy a curious pattern began to emerge
highly suggesting that, in the words of Orlando Sentinel columnist Charley
Reese, "little Elian Gonzalez has become a pawn in an international
Based on research by the Archer Daniels Midland Shareholders Watch
Committee in the fall of 1995, Andreas, met with Fidel Castro for dinner in
New York. In July 1996, Andreas announced that he was going to Cuba to see
Castro and contemplated building a refinery in Cuba, but would do it
through a Spanish subsidiary because of the U.S. trade embargo.
It was then in the midst of the highly charged debate whether Elian
Gonzalez should be returned to his father in Cuba or stay in Miami with
relatives a meeting was arranged with the boy's grandmothers at the home
of the president of Barry University. Coincidentally, Andreas is also a large
contributor to Barry University, and his wife is a graduate and is past
chairman of the board of trustees.
In late April the Washington Post reported that the fund paying the legal
expenses for Juan Gonzalez, Elian's father, which had been coming from the
United Methodist Church's Board of Church and Society was being turned
over to the National Council of Churches. The Methodist announcement
came after the denomination's financial office decided such fund raising did
not follow rules prescribed in the Methodist policy manual.
The Methodists, through the fund, paid lawyer Gregory B. Craig and his
Washington firm, Williams & Connolly, through contributions designated for
representing Gonzalez only, not for denominational programs. But many of
the church's 8.4 million members, the Post noted, especially Cuban
American Methodists in Miami, criticized the society's involvement.
It was the politically powerful law firm of Williams & Connolly who not only
represented ADM unsuccessfully in its lysine price fixing suit, but also
represented President Bill Clinton in his 1999 impeachment trail before the
U.S. Senate. Williams & Connolly, including Clinton's personal attorney David
Kendall, has also been one among several attorneys representing FOX
Television interests battling investigative reporters Jane Akre and Steve
Wilson in their suit against their former employer Rupert Murdoch's FOX 13
TV station in Tampa Bay, Florida.
The couple charged that they were fired for refusing to broadcast
statements which they considered to be untrue about bovine growth
hormone (rBGH), manufactured by Monsanto, a major FOX advertiser. A
six-person jury eventually awarded $425,000 in damages to Akre after
finding enough evidence that proved FOX took retaliatory personnel action
against her because she threatened to blow the whistle to the Federal
Communications Commission that FOX Television pressured the
husband-and-wife team to broadcast a false, distorted or slanted news
The origin of the National Council of Churches role in bankrolling Gonzalez's
attorney Craig, who as columnist Reese noted is "the high-priced lawyer
who suddenly materialized to represent Juan Gonzalez, who couldn't afford
two seconds of Craig's time" might well stem from the appointment in
October, 1999 of Andrew Young, a current ADM board member and member
of its public-policy committee, as the new president of the National Council
As the Agribusiness Council's Nicholas E. Hollis, observed at the time "under
the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code the tax exempt organization must
report only individual donations over a certain percentage of the total
revenues and only after a year --- by which time the heat of investigation
and inquiring minds is gone.
"By shuffling the pea from under one shell to another, the question of who is
actually financing Elian's father remains hidden --- and clouded to future
investigation. This is once again the work of the Phantom Factor at his
worst. The `Supermarkup to the World's' chairman emeritus must be
working overtime in Miami, Washington and Decatur on this," he added.
While the U.S. should not shirk from providing "humanitarian relief" to
wherever it is needed in the world one should be extremely wary when it
comes to corporate agribusiness using the term to simply camouflage
there attempts to develop new markets.
It was in the early 1950's that Congress enacted Public Law 480 designed to
relieve U.S. grain surpluses by authorizing the sale or bartering of
surpluses abroad to those countries needing food commodities. It was not
until almost a decade later that the program became know as the Food for
In naming P.L. 480 the "Food for Peace" program Minnesota Senator (and
long-time Cargill friend) Hubert H. Humphrey remarked: "I have heard . . .
that people may become dependent on us for food. I know that was not
suppose to be good news. To me that was good news, because before
people can do anything they have got to eat. And if you are looking for a way
to get people to lean on you and to be dependent on you, in terms of their
cooperation with you, it seems to me that food dependence would be
Since its inception, however, P.L. 480 has had its critics. Perhaps the most
critical analysis of the program came in 1975 with the publication of The
Fields Have Turned Brown: Four Essays on World Hunger authored by Susan
DeMarco and Susan Sechler, at the time co-directors of the Agribusiness
In their report they contended that "simple greed" more than generosity
had motivated the administration of a food program designed to feed
hungry people. In what amounted to a form of "economic imperialism," the
USDA and the State Department in league with the grain trade and
corporate agribusiness used the program:
* "To dispose profitably of farm surpluses, which otherwise might create
serious domestic economic problems;
* "To create new, or to expand or protect existing markets for U.S.-owner
* "To provide cheap capital for overseas investment by U.S. enterprises;
* "To `launder,' so to speak, military assistance which might have been
challenged if so identified."
One of the most important results of these policies the two women went on
to document meticulously, was that U.S. agricultural trade policies forced a
change in the eating habits of people in less developed countries and
stifled their own agricultural production by making them dependent on U.S.
Such use of food aid as "one of the chips in the poker game of international
power politics," DeMarco and Sechler explained, and "so long as the major
portion of U.S. food aid is captive to overriding political and commercial
concerns, it will do little to advance a goal of long-term food security for the
hungry, and, more frequently, will even tend to disrupt that goal."
It has often been said if we don't learn from past mistakes we are bound to
repeat them in the future so it behooves U.S. family farmers, Cuban farmers,
national and international humanitarian groups, and the Cuban government
to keep a suspicious eye on the likes of ADM, Cargill, Riceland Foods,
ConAgra, Perdue Farms, Gold Kist, and Tyson Foods as they come bearing
their corporate "gifts."
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