More U.S. Senators Visit Cuba

Over the U.S. Presidents’ Day holiday (February 14-17), Democratic U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (MN), Claire McCaskill (MO) and Mark Warner (VA) visited Cuba. They met with government and religious leaders and people on the street. [1]

Bruno Rodriíguez Parrilla
Bruno Rodriíguez Parrilla
Josefina Vidal
Josefina Vidal

Cuba’s only newspaper, Granma, in its English-language edition, had a prominent article about the senators’ meeting with Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, [2] and Josefina Vidal, General Director of Cuba’s U.S. Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the official in charge of Cuba’s current negotiations with the U.S. Granma stated that the meeting “addressed relevant topics, such as the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations between both nations and the lifting of the economic blockade [embargo].”  Cuba’s official statement about the meeting emphasized that Senator Klobuchar had “presented a legislative bill to Congress which aims to eliminate blockade restrictions.”

Senators McCaskill, Klobuchar and Warner (Granma photo)
Senators McCaskill, Klobuchar and Warner (Granma photo)

The English-language edition of Granma had a longer article featuring this color photograph of the three senators at their concluding press conference in Havana and a video of the conference. It reported that the senators had “expressed optimism in regards to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and progress toward normalization.” One of the Cuban journalists asked if the senators thought they had visited a terrorist state, and the answer was “no.”

After identifying Senator Klobuchar as the author of a bill to end the embargo, the Cuban newspaper reported the she expressed “confidence that the visit would help to broaden the prevailing view of Cuba in Washington, which should strengthen the bipartisan effort to eliminate blockade restrictions on trade and maritime transport, among others.” She also noted “that changes will not be immediate, but emphasized the need to hold a discussion involving both major U.S. parties.”

According to Granma, Senator McCaskill said there are “no problems which could not be addressed, and expressed optimism in regards to the [current U.S.-Cuba] talks.” She also reported that “the delegation had visited the Port of Mariel and the adjacent Special Development Zone, emphasizing the possibilities opening up for U.S. imports to Cuba.” (A prior post discussed this deep-sea port development to accommodate larger container ships going through an enlarged Panama Cana while a 11/07/14 comment to that post mentioned difficulties Cuba was experiencing in attracting foreign investment in the project.)

Senator Warner, according to Granma, mentioned the need to eliminate U.S. restrictions that made it more difficult for Cubans to buy goods under exemptions from the embargo.

As the three senators prepared to leave Cuba, they learned that the second round of talks for the two countries would take place in Washington, D.C. on February 27th., and according to U.S. press coverage of the press conference, they so announced to the journalists. Senator Warner said, “We look with hope and expectations to the meetings next week in Washington between the Cuban government and the American State Department to make progress.” [3]

McCaskill added, according to the U.S. journalists, “Frankly I’m optimistic because the negotiators are two women and we know how to get things done.” Perhaps more importantly, she said, largely Republican agricultural interests in the Midwest supported lifting the embargo as “they really want to sell rice [and other agricultural products] down here. So it is the business community and agricultural community who I think might have the most influence on helping us make this effort more bipartisan.”

McCaskill said right-wing opposition to other bills has been overcome when House Speaker John Boehner had allowed the entire House to vote on them, contrary to the so called Hastert Rule or Practice that would not allow a bill to come to floor of the House for a vote unless it had the support of a majority of the Republican caucus. McCaskill hoped, “This could be one of those times, especially if the Chamber of Commerce and the commodities groups and the Farm Bureaus of the world really start putting political pressure on their own party.”

Afterwards Klobuchar told a Minnesota journalist that the Cuban people often mention the date “December 17th,” the day Presidents Obama and Castro announced their countries’ agreement to pursue reconciliation, and she saw people selling artwork using the newspaper’s front page of Obama’s decree. “We met with every-day people who had started businesses who are excited. There is a real interest in buying American products.” Indeed, with U.S. trade restrictions removed, she said, Minnesota could be selling more pork, poultry, corn and soybeans, farm machinery and perhaps renewable energy technology to Cuba that could easily double its current $20 million in annual agricultural exports to the island.

These conversations led Senator Klobuchar to conclude that Cubans have a couple of top priorities: normalizing currency and getting better access to high-speed Internet and cell phones. “Once they get Internet and once they get communications,” she asserted, “ I believe there will be improvements to everything else.”

News of Senator Klobuchar’s bill to end the embargo with her photograph had appeared on the front page of Granma, causing many Cuban people to recognize her as she walked down the street. She felt like a celebrity.

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[1] This post is based upon Press Release, Klobuchar in Cuba to Discuss Economic Opportunities for Minnesota (Feb. 17, 2015); Sherry, Sen. Klobuchar spends weekend in Cuba hearing out locals, StarTribune (Feb. 17, 2015);  Assoc. Press, Amy Klobuchar, in Cuba, sees opportunity for Minnesota, Pion. Press (Feb. 18, 2015); Ikowitz, Why Sen. Klobuchar felt like a celebrity on Cuba trip, Wash. Post (Feb. 17, 2015); Assoc. Press, Senator: Next round of US-Cuba Talks Next Week, N.Y. Times (Feb. 17, 2015);  Reuters, U.S., Cuba to Meet February 27; Senators See Path for End of Embargo, N.Y. Times (Feb. 17, 2015); Cuban minister receives U.S. senators, Granma (Feb. 17, 2015); Gomez, US senators expect better relations with Cuba, Granma (Feb. 17, 2015).

[2] Last October Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla presented Cuba’s resolution condemning the U.S. embargo to the U.N. General Assembly, which approved it 188 to 2.  

[3] In a separate, very short article, Granma’s Spanish-language original reported the second round of talks would take place in Washington on February 27th. (Second round of cuba-US talks, Granma (Feb. 17, 2015)(English by Google Translate).) 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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