WASHINGTON – Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tom Emmer said from Cuba on Monday that the sheer number of Americans joining President Obama in Havana this week will help push the communist country towards softening its abysmal human rights record and that relaxing trade restrictions would help Minnesota farmers.
Klobuchar, Emmer and Rep. Rick Nolan are among 40 members of Congress meeting with Cuban-American business owners and Cuban government officials this week during a historic presidential visit to Cuba. President Obama is the first American president to visit the island nation since 1928.
Klobuchar and Emmer are lead sponsors of companion measures in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to lift the trade embargo with Cuba. They both point out opportunities for Minnesota farmers — particularly in poultry and soy beans, two crops Cubans are currently importing from Asia and Europe. The two politicians said in a call with Minnesota reporters Monday that the trip will only help their efforts on Capitol Hill — though a vote is not likely in both chambers before the start of the next Congress in January.
“It’s still a ‘Hail Mary’ pass,” Emmer said. “But it is possible.”
Obama held a press conference Monday with Cuban President Raul Castro, in which Castro denied holding any political prisoners in jail and ran through a long list of remaining differences the two countries have. Several Cuban human rights groups have pointed out this inaccuracy, citing more than 50 dissidents languishing in Cuban jails.
Klobuchar said the fact that Castro even agreed to answer press questions is progress and that he is “always prickly.”
She said trading with Cuba will only improve United States’ leverage with human rights because “they want to do business with us as much as we want to do business with them.”
Emmer says human rights is part of why he’s pushing so much for an embargo lift on Capitol Hill.
“This isn’t just about the economic things,” he said. “This thing is bigger than that. It’s about human rights ... It’s about engagement. It’s about bringing things into the sunlight so you can see the things going on.”