Republicans against Cuban normalization

Republican senators and House members were generally critical of President Barack Obama’s proposal to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, but there were nuances among many Republican members whose farmers and food plants sell products to Cuba and hope to sell more.

“Like all of us, I celebrate the release of American Alan Gross after five years of captivity in Cuba and welcome his return,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. “I can only imagine his family’s relief and joy when they were reunited with him.”

Gross is a U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor who had been imprisoned in Cuba.

“With regard to Cuba policy, I am committed to expanding agricultural trade where we can,” Hoeven continued. “Easing trade restrictions on selling food to Cuba could have mutual benefits for us and for the Cuban people.

“At the same time, however, we have to acknowledge that the Cuban government has a record of terrible human rights violations and that we have yet to see any real progress in that regard,” he added. “If we are going to normalize economic and diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Castro regime needs to first change its approach to human rights.”

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., said, “While I welcome the restoration of trade between the U.S. and Cuba on behalf of Arkansas agriculture and manufacturers, Congress must proceed with caution and deliberation in response to the president’s decision.

“I pledge to lend my voice and the voice of Arkansas businesses to what promises to be a thorough and robust debate,” he concluded.

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said, “As one of the few members who has traveled to Cuba, I believe today’s announcement is a good first step in removing trade and travel barriers that will not only boost our economy but Cuba’s as well.

“The only way to weaken the Castro regime is by strengthening Cuba’s middle class, which can only be done by lifting outdated trade and travel restrictions that have led to further isolation and oppression of the people of Cuba,” said Davis.

“As the second largest exporter in agriculture commodities, Illinois relies on trade relations that allow our products to be sold to the rest of the world. So at a time when America is yearning for more manufacturing jobs and to produce more, improving trade relations with Cuba will only further this goal while helping to empower the people of Cuba,” Davis concluded.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., limited his statement to one of “great relief” at the release of Gross.

Moran noted that he was the author of a December 2012 unanimously passed Senate resolution (S. Res. 609), which called on Cuba to immediately and unconditionally release Gross.

But when he was in the House, Moran was a co-sponsor of a 2010 bill that would have required the Treasury Department to eliminate the banking and travel restrictions that the Obama administration now intends to eliminate – a move that agriculture groups say may help them increase sales.

Then-House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., was a sponsor of that 2010 legislation, but he did not issue a statement in response to Obama’s actions. The Peterson-Moran bill passed the House Agriculture Committee on a vote of 25 to 20, but did not become law.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the likely incoming chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, said he opposes Obama’s plans to change U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“I oppose this move, and I believe it is a mistake. It’s hard – if not impossible – to normalize relations with a Castro-led Cuba. And I don’t see anything in the president’s announcement to persuade me otherwise,” Blunt said in a statement.

“Under this administration’s foreign policy agenda, our friends are concerned and our adversaries are encouraged. We’ll see how far the president wants to go with his Cuba proposal, but I have no confidence in this move based on his foreign policy record thus far,” Blunt added.

–The Hagstrom Report