When a Havana family sits down for pollo asado, passes pan de ajo across the kitchen table or splurges on some chocolate soy ice cream, chances are the ingredients came from U.S. farms.
Venezuela may boast of its revolutionary friendship with Cuba, and China may send its youth there to study Spanish, but the United States has emerged as the No. 1 exporter of agricultural products to Cuba.
And that's not all that can be sent to Cuba legally. Try live primates, truffles, azalea bushes, fox furs -- even cigars.
When President Obama announced plans in April to ease the embargo by lifting family-travel restrictions to the island and allowing U.S. telecommunications firms wide latitude to do business there, many analysts said the policy changes could significantly expand ties between the estranged neighbors -- assuming Havana responds positively to the overture.
But fairly significant commerce has been going on since the Trade Sanctions Reform and Enhancement Act of 2000 opened the door to U.S. food and medicine exports to Cuba -- despite the tense relationship between Havana and Washington and a trade embargo that has spanned nearly 50 years.
U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba hit a record $711.5 million in 2008, as prices for commodities soared. That makes the United States Cuba's fifth-largest trading partner overall.
``We are the natural provider of food and agriculture products to Cuba,'' says Kirby Jones, president of Alamar Associates, a consulting firm for U.S. companies aspiring to trade with Cuba. ``We're No. 1 and could be selling a lot more, were it not for the restrictions.''
Over the past nine years, Cuba, which imports 80 percent of its food, has come to rely heavily on its nemesis to the north for wheat, corn, soy goods and scores of other key agricultural products.
American companies provide two-thirds of Cuba's imported chicken and more than 40 percent of its pork imports. Utility poles, organic fertilizer and chewing gum also make their way in.
Not much medicine has been shipped, however, since Cuba has other options.
CASH FLOWS FROM U.S.
Much has changed since President John F. Kennedy imposed a total economic embargo of Cuba in 1962, making it illegal for Americans to spend any money in Cuba or trade with Havana.
The chinks began when some travel restrictions were lifted in the late 1970s, and through the years there has been a tightening and loosening of the embargo as administrations change in Washington.
In recent years, Cuba has raked in U.S. dollars in a host of other ways, too:
The Castro government charges a 10 percent fee to exchange greenbacks for convertible pesos, or CUCs, used by Cuban Americans and other visitors, and there's another 10 percent hit due to the unfavorable exchange rate given by money changers.
Cuba also gets millions of dollars -- perhaps hundreds of millions -- in fees from U.S. telecommunications companies that already provide long-distance service to the island through third countries.
When Cuban Americans make trips to Cuba, they generally travel heavy, lugging an estimated $3,000 to $5,000 in goods for family and friends. If just half of the 200,000 Cuban travelers expected this year carried even the low end, or $3,000 worth, that would amount to $300 million of clothing, electronics and household gadgets winding up in Cuba in 2009 alone. These travelers also are allowed to spend up to $179 per day while in Cuba, according to U.S. regulations.