DULUTH — In Cuba, beyond the crumbling buildings, poverty, and aging cars and farm equipment and so much else because new anything isn’t available, there’s also this: opportunity for Minnesota, our businesses, and economy.
But only if a trade embargo — a relic of a past reality, enacted 60 years ago in 1961 — is lifted. It would allow business, tourism, and more to flow again between the U.S. and our neighbor just 90 miles to our south.
With diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. thawing for at least seven years, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota this week reintroduced a bill to lift the embargo, her office announced. Far from the president’s signature, the measure nonetheless has bipartisan support, including Republican U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, a cosponsor.
“Instead of looking to the future, U.S.-Cuba policy has been defined for far too long by conflicts of the past,” Klobuchar said in the statement. “As we work to rebuild our economy following the pandemic, lifting the trade embargo will open the door to a large export market and create jobs in the U.S. It’s time to turn the page on the failed policy of isolation by passing our bipartisan legislation to end the embargo once and for all.”
It’s important to note that while Klobuchar’s bill would repeal key provisions that have long been blocking Americans from doing business in Cuba, it wouldn’t overturn portions of law that address human-rights violations there or property claims against the Cuban government, according to the statement. That distinction makes the bill similar to one Klobuchar first introduced in 2015.
Even with legitimate and lingering human-rights concerns, Cuba’s refusal to embrace democracy, and more, reviving business, tourism, and trade relations between our two nations stands to be a boon for Minnesota. Cuba relies on agriculture imports to feed its 11 million residents and its 4 million annual tourists (when there isn’t a pandemic). And Minnetonka, Minnesota-based Cargill provides food and agricultural and other products, as just one example.
The U.S. International Trade Commission determined that if restrictions on trade with Cuba were lifted, exports from the U.S. of things like wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans could increase by 166% within five years to a total of about $800 million.
The thaw between the U.S. and Cuba started unexpectedly in 2014 with a prisoner swap. Congressional measures to further the cause were joined a year later by a White House announcement that a Cuban embassy would open in Washington and a U.S. embassy would open in Havana. In May 2015, the Minnesota Orchestra became the first from the U.S. to travel to and perform in Cuba in more than 50 years. Klobuchar was among politicians visiting Cuba in 2015.
“This bill would do away with a misguided, failed policy of unilateral sanctions that harms the Cuban people and shortchanges American companies and American workers,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, also a cosponsor of last week’s reintroduced Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, said in the statement. “A tiny, vocal minority stubbornly opposes (the trade embargo’s) demise. The consequence, besides blocking U.S. exports and income for America’s farmers and manufacturers, is that our competitors (China in particular) are reaping the benefits of our shortsightedness.”
Opportunities are there to be seized with the lifting of the trade embargo. To the benefit of Minnesota, our nation, Cuban citizens, and others, they can be seized — with concerns about human rights, democracy, and more not ignored in any rush to cash in.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Duluth News Tribune.