By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Cuba imports roughly 80 percent of the food it needs for the island’s 11 million people.

A healthy portion of that food comes from the United States.

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But wait a minute, you say, what happened to the Cuban embargo?

“The U.S. is the largest supplier of food to Cuba,” Dr. Carlos Eire.

A Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University and a Cuba expert, Eire is also the author of “Waiting for Snow in Havana” and “Learning to Die in Miami.”

“They pay upfront, they get the shipment, and it goes through the military,” he added.

In Cuba, the military controls through various shell companies which handle food distribution on the island.

In the year 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Trade Sanctions Reform Act that allowed agricultural and food products to be exported to Cuba despite the embargo. The hope was that improving conditions for individual Cubans would undermine the support for the Castro Regime.

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That was then. The regime is still in charge years later and the food products continue to flow to the island, most winding up in state-operated stores. It is expensive for most Cubans.

“The food products can only reach them through these stores that are a military business. The military junta owns and runs everything,” said Eire.

Critics such as Eire said much of the food products end up in the restaurants of government-owned hotels and resorts.

Food exports have ramped up in recent years. In 2019, almost three million dollars worth was sent. By 2020, more than $11 eleven million. There was a huge increase in 2021, the U.S. exported nearly $27.7 million worth of food, up 144 percent.

As for the dollar stores.

“They have a market all to themselves and there is no competition, so the food is sold at outrageous prices,” said Eire.

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Farmers, growers, food producers in the American Midwest and South lobby hard to keep the program working and food flowing to Cuba along with urging the end of the Cuban embargo. They see the island nation as a growth market.