THREE CUBAN officials recently toured portions of the Texas Rice Belt and met with government and farm organization leaders at a dinner hosted by the Houston-based U.S. Rice Producers Association.

Pedro Alvarez Borrego, president of Alimport, Cuba's food import agency; Maria de la Luz B'Hamel, director of trade policy for Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Commerce; and Alexander Perez Cartaya of Alimport's Chartering Division were guests of the U.S. Rice Producers during their stop in Houston.

"Hosting the first Cuban delegation to this country in four decades is a most significant step in opening this critically important 400,000 ton market," said the U.S. Rice Producers' Dennis DeLaughter. "Our proximity to this large market will make shipments of our rice more cost effective."

Besides DeLaughter and other association members and staff, Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Texas; American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman; Texas Farm Bureau President Don Patman; and state Sen. Rodney Ellis attended the dinner.

Following that event, the Cuban officials traveled to Beaumont to meet with rice producers and millers in that area. They also traveled to College Station and Brenham for meetings with Texas A&M University officials and other commodity groups.

"Although it took years to get the Cubans only 90 miles from Havana to the United States, think of what benefits all will gain in the 90 miles from Houston to Beaumont," said Jim Willis, U.S. Rice Producers president for international operations.