Mr. President, I rise today to discuss our country's relationship with Cuba. I have long advocated modernizing our relationship [Page: S987]
with Cuba. The current embargo has been in place for 50 years, and it has greatly constrained opportunities for American businesses by restricting commerce, by restricting our exports--things that are made in America--from going to a place that is only 90 miles off our shores and has 11 million people. 

That is why today I introduce the bipartisan Freedom to Export to Cuba Act with Senators Enzi, Stabenow, Flake, Leahy, and Durbin. This bill lifts the trade embargo on Cuba and knocks down the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba. This bill will help open up new economic opportunities for American businesses, which will mean more jobs. It will also boost opportunities for farmers--something the Chair knows well coming from the State of North Dakota, as we know 
well in the State of Minnesota. This will also allow Cubans to have access to these products, which we believe is good for their country, good for their people so that they can become a different country. 

Freeing our businesses to pursue opportunities for development could greatly help the people of Cuba. Consider for example that Cuba only has a 2G cellular network and that only about one-fourth of the population has Internet access. Ultimately, I believe this legislation will help usher in a new era for Americans and Cubans shaped by opportunities for the future rather than simply a story of the past. 

The process the President has jump-started to normalize our ties with Cuba is a positive step forward. My home State of Minnesota exported about $20 million in agricultural products to Cuba in 2013. I think people are surprised by that, but as many of us know, there are humanitarian exceptions to the current embargo. So our country is already exporting, and my State alone exported $20 million in products. With the President's action alone, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture estimates that 
exports could increase by another $20 million. The United States is already the fourth largest source of imports to Cuba based solely on authorized shipments of agriculture and medical supplies. Over the past decade we have been one of Cuba's top suppliers of food products. So it is not as if we don't already do business there, but unlike every 
other country, including our own neighbor to the north, Canada, we hamstring our businesses seeking to export their products there. Export and travel restrictions have continued to prevent Americans from seeking opportunities in Cuba, and the embargo prevents Cubans from obtaining food and other goods we take for granted in our country. 

Cuban human rights activist Yoani Sanchez wrote: 

It is impossible for Cubans to buy staples like eggs or cooking oil without turning to the underground market. Rationing forces people to stand in line for hours for poultry and fish. On the Cuban government's 50th anniversary in 2009, it provided families with an extra half pound of ground beef, but that beef was not from the U.S. It was sponsored by the Venezuelan government ..... a meager gift nicknamed ``Hugo Chavez's Hamburger'' by everyday Cubans.

I say it is time for America to stop ceding credit for the hamburger to Venezuela. It is time that we made our hamburger accessible in Cuba. The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act will help us do that. It is simply a targeted repeal of the provisions in current law that keep the embargo in place, including restrictions that prevent American businesses from financing their own exports to the island and requirements for American farms to seek special licenses for any transaction with Cuba. 

It is also important to emphasize what this bill does not do. There are many outstanding issues that many of my colleagues have discussed between our two countries that must be dealt with, especially our concerns about the Cuban Government's repressive policies. That is why this bill does not repeal provisions of current law that address human rights in Cuba or that allow individuals and businesses to pursue claims against the Cuban Government for property. 

None of us is under any illusion about the nature of the Cuban Government. The Cuban Government must take serious steps to reform politically and economically. It must free political prisoners and stop arbitrarily arresting people for political speech. It must also take steps to liberalize its state-centric economic system if it truly hopes to allow its people to prosper and to benefit from growing commerce with the United States. 

We do not minimize the importance of those issues, but we also know the embargo has not helped to solve them. Members on both sides of the aisle recognize that continuing along the same path with respect to Cuba has not achieved our objectives and in fact has constrained Americans' freedom to pursue business opportunities abroad. It has hindered our freedom to travel, which is why I also cosponsored the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act recently introduced by Senator Flake.

Both that bill and the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act that I have introduced today with a bipartisan group of Senators shows that we can work together in this new Congress to support a commonsense relationship between the United States and Cuba. 

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation. It is a chance to build on our current progress and take additional actions to forge a practical and positive relationship with the people of Cuba and the people of America.