Klobuchar, Emmer urge Trump to keep Obama's Cuba policies

Star Tribune

By: Allison Sherry

Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tom Emmer beseeched President-elect Donald Trump this week to keep Obama administration initiatives relaxing trade and travel restrictions for Americans wanting to travel to and work with Cuba.

Flanked on Capitol Hill by four Cuban women entrepreneurs who say their livelihoods depend on American business and tourism, Emmer and Klobuchar said they would urge Trump to stay the course — even eventually supporting a full lift of the trade embargo.

“The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result,” said Emmer, the only Republican at the news conference, who is leading his caucus on the bill to repeal the trade embargo. “We have a change in the administration. There have been strong words spoken.”

Emmer is referring to a tweet Trump tapped out a couple of weeks ago after the recent death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” Trump said.

Two years ago, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro restored ties between the two countries and relaxed many restrictions in banking and travel. Since then, embassies have opened in both countries and there has been increasing support on Capitol Hill to relax more rules, including lifting travel bans and boosting agricultural exports.

Havana businesses are bustling, thanks in part to the relaxation on restrictions. Marla Recio Carbajal, founder and president of Havana Reverie, an upscale event and wedding planning company that caters primarily to U.S. travelers and companies, told lawmakers this week that she was doing well because of American interest in the country.

“Please don’t turn your back on us,” she said.

Unspooling two years of business growth and development may be harder than the president-elect thinks. There are already direct flights to Cuba starting from the United States, and businesses as diverse as Airbnb, Western Union and Carnival Cruises have embarked on entreaties into the country.

Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines has applied for a direct flight from MSP to Havana. Other Minnesota officials, including Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents northwestern Minnesota, have said they hope state agricultural products would be included in trade agreements.

“We want them sleeping in American hotels. We want them to eat hamburgers from America,” Klobuchar said Wednesday of the rapidly growing tourist economy in Havana. She is the lead Democrat on the trade embargo bill in the U.S. Senate. “We want them to eat chickens from Minnesota.”

In a letter to Trump, Emmer and a handful of other House members said recent events in Cuba could create an opportune time for America to help the country usher in a new era in Cuban leadership that can also be of interest to U.S. businesses.

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a national advocacy organization dedicated to dismantling the U.S. embargo on Cuba, said on Wednesday he remains hopeful that Trump, a businessman, will not reverse the work already done.

“There is no business in the world that would continue a strategy that has failed for 55 years. We see no reason why he would do the same with the U.S. government,” he said. “We’re hopeful that he will continue to build on the progress of the last two years that has helped U.S. businesses and created positive changes for the Cuban people.”