Weekly Columns

It is no secret that I often strongly disagreed with former President Obama during his time in office. At almost every turn, he pursued an agenda that put our economic interests and national security at risk. One of the few times he got it right was when he moved to open up relations with Cuba.   

I said it at the time, and continue to believe, normalizing relations with Cuba is the right thing to do. Since my time in the U.S. House of Representatives, I have supported efforts to end the embargo of U.S. agriculture exports to Cuba, relax the travel ban and loosen monetary restrictions.

President Trump recently took steps to reverse the changes the Obama administration made to our Cuba policy. During his announcement, the President made it clear his goal is to force the Castro regime from power.

I share President Trump’s desire to see democracy take root in Cuba, as well as his commitment to ending human rights abuses carried out by the Castro regime. However, a return to embargo-like policies is the wrong approach. We ran this play over and over again for fifty years and the results have not changed.

By rolling back reforms that have benefited U.S. citizens, everyday Cubans and our economy, we are taking a step backward, not forward. It would be more effective to continue an open line of communication and a working relationship with a government in need of democratic assistance, instead of shutting it out. Through this approach, we not only trade goods, but ideas. The two go hand-in-hand. 

That’s why I continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to seek ways to help American businesses compete in the Cuban market and promote policies that increase U.S. influence in the region.

One immediate way to accomplish both these goals is to lift the restrictions on private financing for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba. U.S. agricultural producers seeking to compete in Cuba currently face a prohibition that puts them at an economic disadvantage with their counterparts from other nations.

This policy hits Arkansas especially hard. There is a high demand in Cuba for rice and poultry—two of Arkansas’s top agricultural products—yet Arkansas producers are barred from seeking private credit to be able to export to the island nation less than 100 miles from our shore.

I have joined with Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) to introduce the Agricultural Export Expansion Act to allow private banks and companies to offer credit for agricultural producers seeking to export to Cuba. Removing the current ban would help level the playing field for exporters across the country and support American jobs at the same time. A subtle policy change like this is a good compromise between those who want to take a harsher stance with the Castro regime and those who want to normalize relations.

President Trump wants smart trade deals. Here’s one. All we have to do is pass our bill to allow American agricultural producers access to private credit to trade in Cuba. There is no cost to the taxpayers. All the risk is assumed by private entities.

By following this approach, we can supply the Cuban people with high-quality food while supporting jobs in Arkansas. It would be a win for our economy and it would help increase our influence in the region, which will help foster democracy in Cuba, the end result that we all ultimately want.