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10 seek to boost U.S. ties to Cuba

10 seek to boost U.S. ties to Cuba
State’s Crawford joins 9 in House
By Frank Lockwood

WASHINGTON — First District U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford and nine of his
colleagues Wednesday announced that they’re creating what they’re
calling a Cuba Working Group that will work “to advance policy proposals
that are in our national interest in an era in which the U.S.-Cuba
relationship is rapidly being reshaped.”

The bipartisan organization will officially be launched today — one year
to the day after President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro
announced that the two nations would be reestablishing diplomatic ties.

In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy
Pelosi on Wednesday, the lawmakers said their group “will convene
meetings with leading experts on Cuba and foreign affairs, host policy
roundtables and discussions and will seek to draw attention to how
reforms in the U.S. and Cuba are opening new opportunities for
commercial, diplomatic and people-to-people relationships.”

All 10 have supported legislation to reduce barriers to trade with the
communist island.

Congress has had Cuba working groups before; the House formed one in
2002 and then-U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln helped form another in 2003.

Those efforts met with little success.

Past attempts to end the embargo have been derailed by lawmakers who say
a return to free trade would benefit the Cuban president and his
brother, Fidel, and prop up an undemocratic regime. Supporters say the
embargo is a failure, harming American agriculture and the Cuban people.

While the embargo was meant, in part, to isolate Cuba, the rest of the
world continues to trade with Havana. In October, the United Nations
voted 191-2 to call for an end to the embargo. Only the U.S. and Israel
voted “no.”

Currently, Americans can sell food and medicine to Cuba, but only if the
purchaser pays cash prior to shipment.

Crawford has introduced legislation that would allow U.S. businesses to
extend credit to entities that are independent of the Cuban government.

But steps to ease the embargo face sharp opposition. The two
Cuban-Americans seeking the Republican presidential nomination, U.S.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Texas and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, both say
lowering the trade barriers would be counterproductive.

“More economic engagement with the U.S. means that the regime’s grip on
power will be strengthened for decades to come, dashing the Cuban
people’s hopes for freedom and democracy,” Rubio said on his campaign

Cruz has said that the administration, in pressing for closer ties, is
being “played by brutal dictators whose only goal is maintaining power.
And, if history be our guide, the Castros will exploit that power to
undermine America and oppress the Cuban people.”

After years of opposition on Capitol Hill, Crawford said he thinks it’s
possible that Congress next year will finally pass legislation to lower
the trade barriers.

The Jonesboro Republican pointed to a July Pew Research Center poll
showing that 72 percent of Americans, including 59 percent of
Republicans, now favor ending the embargo. The survey of 2,002 adults,
including 462 Republicans, had an overall margin of error of plus or
minus 2.5 percent. The margin of error among Republicans was plus or
minus 5.2 percent.

“Cuba imports about 80 percent of their food and we are positioned
geographically with a huge advantage to address that market,” he said.

Crawford said he doesn’t want to do a wholesale repeal of the embargo,
but would like the U.S. to make “some cautious and incremental changes”
to the trade policy.

Lawmakers could start by making it easier to send agricultural products,
said Crawford, whose district produces roughly half of the U.S. rice crop.

“Cuba imports about 400,000 tons of rice every year. Most of that comes
from Vietnam. …. I’d a lot rather sell Arkansas rice,” he said, reeling
off three reasons why Cubans would be interested in importing it. “No.
1, it’s a good quality product. They can count on it being a good
quality product. No. 2, they can get it quicker. And No. 3, because of
its proximity to the United States, Cuba can get a cheaper food supply,”
he said.

Crawford is joined on the Cuba working group by U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor,
D-Fla.; Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.; Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; Tom Emmer ,
R-Minn.; Sam Farr, D-Calif.; Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; Jim P. McGovern,
D-Mass.; Ted Poe, R-Texas and Reid Ribble, R-Wis.

Source: 10 seek to boost U.S. ties to Cuba –

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