Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Letter: Klobuchar Leads Group of 14 Senators to Urge the State Department to Maintain Economic and Political Engagement with Cuba

The full text of the senators’ letter is below:

Dear Secretary Tillerson,

As the sponsors of the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, we write to urge the Administration to maintain economic and political engagement with Cuba.

Upholding normalized relations with Cuba provides key economic and national security benefits to the United States. We have already started to see the benefits of a new approach with Cuba. American travel and hotel companies are taking advantage of their ability to get licenses to work in Cuba. American airline companies are flying direct commercial routes between the U.S. and Cuba, and for the first time in decades an American cruise ship docked in Havana. In 2016, tourism to Cuba set a record, increasing by nearly 14 percent. In order for American businesses to benefit from this growth they have to be able to do business in Cuba.

Each year the United States exports approximately $300 million in agricultural commodities to Cuba. This represents just 16 percent of Cuba’s $1.9 billion in agricultural imports. Expanding these opportunities would allow American farmers to dramatically increase exports. Isolating Cuba again would not just block opportunities for American businesses, it would also allow competitors like China and Brazil to expand their operations.

In addition to helping American businesses and farmers, bilateral cooperation with Cuba is good for our national security. In April, more than a dozen retired military officers sent a letter to National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, urging the Administration to continue to expand U.S. – Cuba relations. These military leaders noted that “if we fail to engage economically and politically, it is certain that China, Russia, and other entities whose interests are contrary to the United States’ will rush into the vacuum. We have an opportunity now to shape and fill a strategic void.” Since reestablishing relations, the United States and Cuba have signed nine memoranda of understanding (MOUs) related to national security. These MOUs focus on important issues like air travel security, efforts to combat drug trafficking, and cross-border law enforcement. Abandoning these agreements is contrary to the best interests of the American people.

Economic and political engagement has also been good for the people of Cuba. More than 500,000 Cubans are running their own small businesses and thousands more are earning money from the growing travel industry. Last year, Google signed a deal with Cuba to improve digital infrastructure, and the Cuban government is slowly expanding Internet access to the Cuban people. It is undeniable that engagement is improving economic opportunities and the quality of life in Cuba. It is possible to expand commerce with Cuba while also holding the Castro regime accountable. For example, our bipartisan legislation calls for ending the economic embargo against Cuba while also maintaining sanctions against the Cuban government for human rights abuses and property rights violations.

A majority of the American people support engagement with Cuba. American business leaders and farmers deserve a fair shot to compete in a market just 90 miles from our shores. We urge you to build on the economic, political, and national security progress we have made thus far by expanding, not retracting, engagement with Cuba.

Sincerely,

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(Source: News release of the office of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar)

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