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HAVANA - Cuban supermarkets on Sunday received the first shipment of U.S. brand-name food sold directly to the communist country since Washington imposed an embargo more than 40 years ago, Reuters reports.
The shipment was part of a $750,000 deal made by Marsh International, a subsidiary of Marsh Supermarkets Inc. of Indiana, and included Marsh-brand butter, margarine, breakfast cereals and tomato sauce. The second half of the order is expected to arrive later this month. The company said future shipments under the contract comprised 140 products, including condiments, snack foods, baby food, cookies, pasta, preserves and soup.
"Cuba is a viable market with lots of potential, and we want to be here," Mohamed Bouras, Marsh director of international sales, said at the Port of Havana, where the food was unloaded. "There is no reason we cannot sell those items here. We hope to sell millions to Cuba next year. We estimate our retail sales someday could reach $35 million," he said.
Cuba could buy as much as 70 percent of all its imported food from the United States if it could get financing for the deals, said Pedro Alvarez, the head of Cuba's import food agency Alimport. Currently, it must pay cash for U.S. food.
Cuba annually imports about $1 billion in food, mostly from Europe, Asia and Latin America, Alvarez said.
Well-known U.S. soft drinks such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Sprite are readily available in Cuba, as are cigarette brands such as Marlboro and Winston, and other products, brought in via Canada, Mexico and Central America.
U.S. lawmakers from farm states are pushing to end a ban on American financing of the sales to make it easier to sell to Cuba. But President Bush has said he will veto any more efforts to ease existing sanctions until Cuba undertakes economic and political reform.