Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said Friday that she is leading a state trade mission to Cuba, even as President Trump moved to tighten restrictions on U.S. travel and trade to the island.
Smith announced the trip at a news conference alongside U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who has helped lead efforts to lift the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba. Both said Minnesota's farmers and businesses stand to benefit considerably from more open relations with the island nation — and they aim to keep building relationships with the country through policy and travel.
"Our message to Minnesota businesses, including the thousands and thousands of Minnesota families who are producing food in Minnesota, is that we're going to Cuba because we believe this is an opportunity," Smith said. "And we're not going to stop fighting to expand this opportunity just because of what happened today."
Participants on the trip, which Smith said has been in the works for months, include state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson and leaders of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Minnesota Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations. The delegation will leave June 19 and spend the next five days meeting with Cuban and U.S. agriculture officials, touring agricultural co-ops and visiting local food markets.
Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Papp said local farmers need strong trade relationships with foreign countries to stay viable, and he sees Cuba as a particularly strong market for the state.
"We will probably be some of the first Americans in the country after the [Trump] announcement," he said. "I don't know what effect it will have. We're there to tell them we want to continue this relationship."
While Klobuchar noted that the president's action does not fully undo the Obama-era opening of relations with Cuba, she blasted the move as "a setback for the [Cuba] policy, no doubt about that."
She said making it harder for people to travel to or trade with Cuba will all but guarantee that other countries move in on trade opportunities now open to U.S. companies.
"Pretty soon, the Cubans are going to be eating Chinese food and sleeping in Spanish hotels," Klobuchar said.
Other members of Minnesota's congressional delegation also had concerns about Trump's plans. If the president saw rolling back the Obama administration's Cuba policies as a campaign promise kept, Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., saw it as another campaign promise broken — and as a threat to national security.
"By returning to the failed policy of the past 55 years, the administration moves no closer to helping improve the human rights situation in Cuba and stands to violate the president's number one campaign promise and constitutional responsibility — to keep the American people and our homeland safe," Emmer said.
Staff writers Jim Spencer and Jennifer Brooks contributed to this report