Sept. 4, 2006 – The Navajo Nation has negotiated an unprecedented trade pact with Cuba, signaling an effort by the tribe to strengthen its sovereign status through economic outreach.
Under the trade agreement, the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, the tribeâ€™s farm production center in New Mexico, will sell grains, fruit, beans and other produce directly to Cuba. The agreement was signed on a recent trade mission to the Caribbean nation by representatives of the Navajo people and the state of New Mexico.
The US agricultural sector enjoys an exception to the strict trade embargo on Cuba, which is driven by hostility toward the regime of leader Fidel Castro. Under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, Cubaâ€™s national food-import agency, Alimport, can purchase American agricultural products through cash-only trade deals.
The new agreement, which awaits final approval by the Navajo Nation Council, reflects the tribeâ€™s growing initiative to engage other parts of the Americas through trade and exchange. Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. said in a press release that forging commercial ties with Cuba was a milestone because it involved "the recognition of the Navajo Nation as a nation â€“ a nation within a nation. Thatâ€™s just the way it should be."
But Shirley also noted that the deal could potentially reap millions of dollars for the Navajo. Since the embargo was loosened, Cubaâ€™s agricultural purchases from the United States have exceeded $1 billion.
According to the tribeâ€™s estimates, over half of the Navajo population lives below the poverty line, and more than 40 percent are unemployed.
"Weâ€™re a sovereign nation and we need to do everything we can to get back on our own two feet," Shirley said.
In addition to providing food resources to Cuba, the Navajo Nation has also offered technological assistance to other indigenous nations. Last November, the tribe became a party to the United Nations organization Observatory for Cultural and Audiovisual Communication, which helps develop communications infrastructures in native communities.
Recently, the Navajo have partnered with the Brazilian Inter-Tribal Committee to bring networking technology to indigenous peoples in Brazil. The Navajo Nation has since 2002 built up a wireless network that enables free internet access across its tribal territory, spanning Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.