He understands that animosity against Cuban President Fidel Castro simmers, especially among Florida ex-patriot Cubans whose property Castro seized when he and communism took over the Island.

But he also recalls that more than 50,000 Americans were killed in the Korean War and that North Korea’s recent admission of nuclear weapons capabilities makes it a far greater threat to U.S. security than a small, poverty-stricken island.

He doesn’t defend either country’s politics, but neither does he believe that refusing to trade with either will serve any real purpose.

Maintaining a trade and travel embargo, however, keeps U.S. farmers from taking advantage of a potentially profitable trading partner.

“Cubans need a lot of products we can provide,” Patman said following a recent trip to Cuba, during which he and others on the U.S./Cuba Trade Association tour discussed the effect liberalizing trade would have on both the U.S. and Cuban economies.

Patman says Castro cited clothing, hardware, construction equipment, small automobiles, truck and bus parts, and food as items high on the Cuban import list.

“The impact on the agricultural economy could be significant,” Patman said. “Opening the Cuban market would give us an outlet for a lot of surplus commodities.”

He said Cuba needs rice and other grains as well as condensed and powdered milk. Patman said Cuba’s foreign minister hopes to revitalize the tropical island’s tourist industry. “Travel currently puts about $2 million per year into the Cuban economy,” he said. “ Much of that comes from the United States. Liberalizing travel could pump that figure to $5 Million to $6 million per year.”

Increased tourism means increased demand for food and other products.

Patman said Castro was a gracious host and met with the delegation in the evening because he ran short of time during the scheduled afternoon session.

He also said the Cuban people appear to be industrious and take a lot of pride in their appearance, their homes and their cars, “which are old but well-maintained. A high percentage of the population are professionals and they understand technology.”

Patman said the government emphasizes technical education to improve workers’ skills and to make them more valuable in the international workplace.

Patman said the U.S./Cuba Trade Association is composed of international traders seeking ways to work with the Cuban government to ease trade restrictions.

“We (Texas Farm Bureau) are not members. We’ll have to bring that before the board,” he said. “But we’ve learned a lot about what it takes to trade with Cuba.”

He expects TFB to engage in additional meetings, including the U.S. - Cuba Marketplace to be held in Cancun, Mexico and in Havana Feb. 17- 20 of next year. Patman and other Texas Farm Bureau personnel plan to participate in that event.

He believes some of the hostility among Cuban ex-patriots is beginning to cool off. “Younger Cuban Americans encourage improved relations with Cuba,” Patman said. “And we see some easing of tension in the U.S. Congress.”

It’s time, he said.

“Texas farmers believe the four-decades-old embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba is a failed policy that should be ended,” Patman said. “But the success of a September trade show proves there are other opportunities we can explore, even with the embargo in place.”

Texas Farm Bureau has organized and participated in two trade missions to Cuba. “In terms of agricultural products, Texas grows a lot of what Cuba needs and we are close enough to be highly competitive,” Patman said.

“Four decades ago, Cuba was a major buyer of U.S. agricultural products, and there is no good reason, political or otherwise, to deny them the products we have, and they need,” he said.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com