WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar spent the long weekend with a couple of other senators in Cuba meeting with government and religious leaders and feeling out business opportunities for Minnesota, she said in an interview Tuesday.
Klobuchar said locals often repeat the date Dec. 17 in conversations -- the day President Barack Obama took significant steps to normalize relations with the country of 11 million, including suspending some rules around banking, credit and travel restrictions.
Congress has to authorize lifting the official trade embargo, though, and travel ban. Klobuchar was the chief author of legislation in the U.S. Senate to lift the embargo introduced last week and she supports another proposal to kill the travel ban. Both measures face some opposition among Republicans and a couple of Democrats, including New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who is the highest ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee.
"We met with every day people who had started businesses who are excited," she said. "There is a real interest in buying American products."
Minnesota already exports about $20 million in food to Cuba each year because of a waiver to export food for humanitarian purposes, but Klobuchar and others in the Minnesota delegation think the demand could skyrocket with free trade.
She said Cubans have a couple of top priorities: normalizing currency and getting better access to high-speed Internet and cell phones. She said the technological revolution to come there will open up society.
"Once they get Internet and once they get communications, that's the whole idea, I believe there will be improvements to everything else," she said.
Klobuchar traveled to the island with Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, both Democrats.