MINNEAPOLIS – Check another item off the to-do list to expand relations with Cuba, one Minnesota senator says.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was on hand this week to see the Stars and Stripes once again fly over an American embassy in Havana, and she called the reopening of the embassy critical toward advancing legislation that would ease the embargo with the Caribbean country just 90 miles from Florida.
The moment was well-received by the general Cuban population, she said.
"The people are way ahead of the government," Klobuchar said. "The government is hanging back some, but the people are all for it, just like they are in our country. And they don't understand why their one country was singled out out of all the other countries in the world, why they can't do business or visit."
The reopening of the embassy could have huge implications on legislation making its way around Washington. Klobuchar's bill to lift the export ban, dubbed the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, has been gaining ground in the Senate.
"This is just the first step. We really need to pass my bill," she said. "I have 22 co-sponsors, both Republicans and Democrats, and plenty of other senators looking to support it."
It may be a while before the bill could see a vote, as it could be a stretch of President Barack Obama's administration to support both the bill and the nomination process to appoint a Cuban ambassador.
"The same people that don't want open relations don't want an ambassador," the Democratic senator said. "We have to pick our fights there."
Still, opening the embassy was a necessary move to support American businesses, both now and in a possible future without an embargo.
"Just from an American perspective, it wasn't just a symbolic moment and a change in policy, but also a pragmatic moment," Klobuchar said Saturday upon returning home to Minnesota. "We aren't going to be able to do full trade with Cuba without a functioning embassy."
Currently, American businesses are allowed to operate under a humanitarian exemption in Cuba, but lifting the trade embargo could have implications for Minnesota businesses.
Klobuchar said tourism could boom with eased tensions between the countries, and the U.S. could cash in.
"We would like (travelers) to be sleeping in American hotels instead of Spanish hotels, and eat food from greater Minnesota rather than food from Brazil," she said.
It's not just Minnesota's ag industry that could reap the benefits of an unembargoed Cuba, Klobuchar said. For example, her state is a producer of advanced medical equipment, something Cuba is currently lacking.
"We're a big exporting state, along with North Dakota," Klobuchar said. "Any kind of product that we export around the world ... they're going to need as their society advances."