Bentley urges Congress to lift Cuba embargo

By: Howard Koplowitz

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley was among nine governors who signed onto a letter calling on congressional leaders "to take action" and lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba, saying that trade restrictions stifles job creation in rural areas.

"Ending the embargo will create jobs here at home, especially in rural America, and will create new opportunities for U.S. agriculture," read the letter signed by Bentley and eight other governors, including only one other Republican. "Expanding trade with Cuba will further strengthen our nation's agriculture sector by opening a market of 11 million people just 90 miles from our shores, and continue to maintain the tremendous momentum of U.S. agricultural exports, which reached a record $152 billion in 2014."

Through executive actions in December, President Barack Obama took steps to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, which included the U.S. reopening the embassy in Havana in August. Obama has said the previous policy of isolating Cuba was a failure.

Lifting the embargo, which went into effect 55 years ago – two years after communists took control of the island nation – would increase opportunity for democracy to grow in Cuba, Bentley and the other governors argued. The letter also expressed support for Obama's executive actions.

"The benefits of fully opening Cuba to free market trading with the U.S. go beyond dollars and cents," the letter, provided to by the bipartisan group Engage Cuba and confirmed by Bentley's office, goes on to say. "This positive change in relations between our nations will usher in a new era of cooperation that transcends business. Expanded diplomatic relations, corporate partnerships, trade and dialogue will put us in a better position to boost democratic ideals in Cuba. This goal has not been achieved with an outdated strategy of isolation and sanctions."

The letter, sent on Friday, urged House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid to end the embargo, which enforces trade, travel and banking restrictions.

"As governors of states across the United States, we write to share our support for an end to current trade sanctions levied against Cuba. It is time for Congress to take action and remove the financial, travel, and other restrictions that impede normal commerce and trade between our nation and Cuba," the letter read. "While normalized trade would represent a positive step for the U.S. and Cuban economies, we appreciate and support the [Obama] [a]dministration's executive actions taken thus far to expand opportunity in Cuba and facilitate dialogue among both nations. We now ask that you and your colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate take decisive steps to support U.S. commerce and trade relations and fully end the embargo on Cuba."

The other signers of the letter were Govs. Jerry Brown of California, Butch Otter of Idaho, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Steve Bullock of Montana, Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, Peter Shumlin of Vermont, Terry McAuliffe of Virginia and Jay Inslee of Washington.