U.S. medical firm shows equipment in Cuba

HAVANA -- A U.S. medical supply company showed off an anesthesia machine and other equipment to Cuban officials on Thursday in hopes of whetting the island's appetite for American medical goods.

"Cuba appreciates the high quality of American medical supplies," said Pedro Alvarez, chairman of the Cuban food import company Alimport. "But the [U.S.] embargo affects the ability to export these supplies to Cuba."

Alvarez said at the exhibition by Mercury Medical of Clearwater that companies have lost billions of dollars in sales over the years.

U.S. companies can sell medicine and medical supplies directly to the communist country under the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act. A law in 2000 authorized U.S. export of food and agricultural products to the island.

But the rules and required paperwork make the transactions tedious. Alvarez did not offer figures on medical exports to Cuba, but officials have said the amount is small, mostly because of the high cost of U.S. medical goods.

U.S. food and farm goods have fared better. Earlier this year, Alvarez said that Cuba had spent more than $100 million during the first quarter to import American foodstuffs.

Mercury Medical brought an estimated $100,000 worth of its own and other U.S. manufacturers' goods to display at the gathering hosted by Alimport and Cuba's Health Ministry.

Along with the $25,000 anesthesia machine, the goods included devices for monitoring blood pressure and respiratory equipment.

The equipment will be donated to the Health Ministry for distribution to hospitals and clinics after the gathering, said event organizer Pamela Ann Martin of Molimar Export Consultants of Ambler, Pa.

Martin said it took months to obtain U.S. government permission to ship the equipment to Cuba.