The Minnesota Orchestra will travel to Havana, Cuba, on Wednesday in a return engagement 85 years in the making.
The orchestra last performed there in 1930. Their 2015 performance will once again put Minnesota at the forefront of a rapidly changing relationship between the U.S. and Cuba.
"We have 11 million people who are 90 miles off our shore," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) said. "It doesn't make sense any more to not do business with them."
Minnesota's senior senator authored, "The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act" in February, two months after President Obama announced plans to begin the process of normalizing trade relations with Cuba.
"We basically said China can do business with them and Brazil can do business with them, but we are so close and we are literally cutting off that channel for American goods," Klobuchar said in a recent interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.
The U.S. has had a strict trade embargo with Cuba in place since the early 1960s. During the years, the embargo has been loosened from time to time to allow U.S. sales of pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and agriculture products to Cuba.
However, the latest figures available from 2012 indicate $27 million worth of Minnesota agriculture products were sold there, making Cuba only the state's 50th biggest agricultural trade partner. That could change dramatically if the embargo is lifted.
Cuba could also become a huge market for telecommunications, consumer goods and tourism. As part of the embargo, U.S. citizens are not allowed to visit Cuba as tourists. They can only go as part of cultural or educational trips. Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines already flies charter flights from Miami to Cuba. Sun Country and other airlines could one day fly profitable commercial routes if the embargo is lifted.
Despite President Obama's overtures to Cuba, including meeting briefly with President Raul Castro last
month at the "Summit of the Americas," Klobuchar's bill faces resistance from the GOP controlled Senate and House. There are still concerns about Cuba's human rights record and Communist government.
There's also the issue of the Helms-Burton Act passed by Congress in 1996. It strengthened the embargo and calls for many stipulations that must be met before the embargo can be lifted and before the U.S. can "normalize" relations with Cuba. It states there needs to be a "transitional government" in Cuba that cannot include former President Fidel Castro or current President Raul Castro.
The Helms-Burton Act also says no Cuban government can be recognized until individuals and companies who had property confiscated after the 1959 revolution have been compensated for their claims. That property was valued at about $1.7 billion in 1959, or about $7 billion today.
Klobuchar says her bill doesn't change that.
"We keep in place the right to go at and get property," she said. However, in announcing her Cuba trade bill in February, she said, "It's time to turn the page on our Cuba policy." She says more than 50 years of doing the same thing hasn't advanced U.S. interests.
"There are many issues in our relationship with Cuba that must be addressed," Klobuchar said in February, "but this legislation to lift the embargo will begin to open up new opportunities for American companies, boost job creation and exports and help improve the quality of life for the Cuban people."