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U.S. companies use hole in trade wall to feed Cuba

Florida fruit juices and North Carolina turkey are among products American companies are showing off in Cuba this week as they press to sell more farm products to the communist island.

Grouped in a stand at the International Fair of Havana, which opened Sunday, the 71 American companies from 18 states and Puerto Rico hope their displays will persuade Cuban officials to buy more under an exception in a 42-year U.S. trade embargo.

"We're hoping to sell more apples, grapes, pears and dried fruits," said Miguel Mauricio, president of Florida Produce, a Tampa wholesale fruit and vegetable company.

The trade fair, which will run through Sunday, comes as Congress is trying to open Cuba to American travelers.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 59-36 to bar the use of government money to enforce current travel restrictions. In September, the House also voted to ease travel restrictions, but the White House has threatened a veto and recently moved to step up enforcement of the travel ban.

This year's American presence doesn't compete with the number of U.S. companies that took part in a U.S. food and agricultural exhibition in Havana a little more than a year ago. It featured 288 exhibitors from 33 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

But it's more than the one or two American companies that have signed up for the fair in past years. The growing U.S. presence shows that American companies want to keep selling _ and Cuban officials want to keep buying, Mauricio said.

"We welcome all American companies wanting to sell," Pedro Alvarez, president of the Cuban food import company Alimport, said Saturday.

Alvarez said that over the next week Cuba hoped to sign contracts to buy more than $50-million more in American farm products, including cereals and livestock.