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McCaskill says Cuban officials worried after embargo lifted

McCaskill says Cuban officials worried after embargo lifted
BY LINDSAY WISE MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU
02/23/2015 7:17 PM 02/23/2015 7:17 PM

WASHINGTON
The Castro regime is busy trying to tamp down sky-high expectations
among Cubans eager for a closer relationship with the U.S., Sen. Claire
McCaskill, D-Mo., told reporters after a trip to the communist-run
Caribbean island.

The Democratic senator was among the first lawmakers to visit Cuba after
U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced in
December that the two countries would move to normalize relations.

“I think most Cubans really did feel like it was a turning of a page,”
McCaskill said Monday in a conference call with reporters. “They see
this opening as a way they can build on positive reforms.”

That reaction apparently has made the Cuban government a little nervous,
the senator said.

“We heard some concerns by some that there were some in the Cuban
government working against this in spite of the fact that Raúl Castro
had made this announcement, that there were some doubters,” McCaskill said.

She said she asked Cuba’s foreign minister “point blank” over lunch:
“Are there people in the government who are working against this?”

He reassured her, saying, “There is no important government official
that I am aware of that is opposed to us going down this path.”

Only time will tell, McCaskill said.

“The Cuban government has used our lack of relationship with them and
the embargo as an excuse for a lack of prosperity and progress in Cuba,”
McCaskill said. “It’s a phony excuse, but it’s an excuse that has been
fed to the Cuban people decade after decade.”

That’s why the Cuban people are so excited, she said.

“I think the government is worried,” McCaskill said, “because they know
they’ve used this embargo as their excuse and once its gone, they have
no more excuses.”

It’s clear the 50-year-old embargo on trade with Cuba needs to end,
McCaskill said. She said she’ll support the Freedom to Export to Cuba
Act, a bill that would lift the embargo that was introduced by Sen. Amy
Klobuchar, D-Minn. Klobuchar and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., traveled with
McCaskill to Cuba.

The bill has a few Republican co-sponsors but faces a battle in
Congress, where impassioned opponents include Cuban American Sens. Marco
Rubio, R-Fla., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., as well as Florida Republican
Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Díaz-Balart.

McCaskill said lobbying from agriculture and business interests will be
key if the bill is to have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled
Congress.

“I won’t say all the agriculture interests in my state are Republican,
but I think the majority of them are,” McCaskill said. “Certainly the
farm bureau is a Republican organization. I think the sooner the
agriculture interests put pressure on some of the Republican members of
the House, the quicker they will be able to get this passed.”

The senator’s visit was arranged by the Center for Democracy in the
Americas, a nonprofit group that advocates for lifting the embargo and
previously has paid for members of Congress to travel to Cuba. McCaskill
and her developer husband, Joseph Shepard, who accompanied her on the
trip, paid their own way.

McCaskill said the trip was a way for her to assess how farmers and
other businesses in her state might benefit from opening Cuban markets
to U.S. agricultural products.

Before traveling, she met with trade groups representing Missouri
producers of rice, pork, soybeans, corn and poultry. She also met with
Cuba’s top representative in the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, the
chief of mission at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.

In Cuba, McCaskill, Klobuchar and Warner met with Cuban government
officials and diplomats from Europe and Asia, as well as ordinary small
business owners, farmers, artists and religious leaders.

“The warmth and affection from the Cuban people was palpable,” McCaskill
said.

McCaskill said she was able to speak to some Cuban citizens without any
Cuban government officials present, including hip hop artists who told
her they had produced songs about racism and other problems in Cuba.

“People were very forthright about their frustrations with the Cuban
government and their dreams and hopes for the future for their
families,” she said.

McCaskill did not meet with any members of Cuba’s dissident movement,
but she stressed that her support for lifting the embargo doesn’t mean
she’s selling out Cuba’s dissidents in return for potential trade
opportunities.

“There is nothing about me wanting a market for Missouri agriculture in
Cuba that means I don’t oppose human rights violations by the Cuban
government,” she said.

There’s precedent for the U.S. to cultivate relationships and deals with
countries “that don’t live up to our standards” in terms of human
rights, she added, citing China as an example.

The senator posted photos to her Instagram account showing classic
American cars on the streets of Cuba and documenting her stops at an
individually owned farm, a church where she attended Mass and a Jewish
synagogue in Havana. The synagogue had an arch that made her miss St.
Louis, McCaskill said.

And yes, McCaskill and her husband did buy some Cuban cigars, at about
$10 a pop.

Email: lwise@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @lindsaywise.

Source: McCaskill says Cuban officials worried after embargo lifted |
Miami Herald Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article11038097.html

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