MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - After President Trump announced travel and business restrictions in Cuba Friday, dozens of Minnesotans were moved to rally outside the Federal Courthouse in protest.
“We feel a knot in our guts, we thought ‘this is a setback,’” Franklin Curbelo, a member of the Minnesota Cuba Committee, said Sunday. “He doesn’t even have his facts straight. The business community not only in Minnesota, but throughout the nation are salivating trying to open up trade with Cuba … because they want to sell the corn, they want to sell the chicken and they want to sell the beans 90 miles from Key West."
Following Trump’s announcement Lt. Governor Tina Smith and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minnesota, addressed reporters during a press conference to share their long-standing plans to head to the island nation in the coming days for a state trade mission.
“This is a big deal to them and the people are way ahead of their government in Cuba and we don’t want to turn our backs on the people,” Klobuchar said and in a statement Friday. "We need to build on the bipartisan momentum we have created by restoring relations with Cuba, not make it harder for Americans to travel and do business there."
Both Lt. Governor Smith and Klobuchar agree Minnesota farmers and businesses stand to benefit from open relations with Cuba.
Greg Klave, the co-chair of the National Network on Cuba, agrees.
“Cuba is a neighbor only 90 miles away, yet we’re forbidden to go there? That’s an infringement on our constitutional right,” Klave said. “We have relations right now that could help Minnesota farmers sell more of their goods and products to Cuba, as well as Cuba helping Minnesota."
President Trump’s revised policy will end private American trips to Cuba and only allow Americans to travel there as a part of authorized educational tours. The policy is expected to diminish the hundreds of thousands of American tourists who visited Cuba over the last two years, which was possible once President Obama began normalizing relations with the Cuban government in 2014.
While President Trump says his new policy will help end human rights violations taking place on the island, Sens. Klobuchar, Curbelo and Klave believe restricting tourism will only hurt the Cuban people even more.
“That money was going to the hands of the average Cubans--restaurants, cafes, renting rooms in their homes so that wasn’t going to the military--it was going directly to the Cuban people and it was improving the lives of those families,” Curbelo said. “Minnesotans should be concerned because [the new policy is] undemocratic."
Minnesota lawmakers and business leaders will head to Cuba on June 19, and will spend five days discussing U.S. and Cuban agriculture.
Sen. Klobuchar and 24 other senators are currently leading a bipartisan coalition to lift the Cuba trade embargo.