I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
“Let anybody go to Cuba,” Richardson says
“Full disclosure–I am for getting rid of the embargo,” Governor Bill Richardson told an audience in a talk about U.S. and Cuban relations at the University of New Mexico on Tuesday
“I want some things in return…but I don’t think it’s worked. It’s hampered our two nations.”
Key to ending the embargo, he said, is undertaking a series of “soft power” or humanitarian steps before any of the “big” issues are tackled.
And that means ending restrictions on travel, he said, for “anybody.”
The speech to a room full of faculty and students who specialize in Latin American studies came on the heels of a trade mission Richardson undertook to Cuba last month. At the end of that trip, he rolled out a series of steps he thought should be undertaken to move the U.S. toward ending a 47-year economic embargo of Cuba.
One step, he said then, should be a partial lifting of the travel ban, leaving many to wonder how far he thinks the U.S. ought to go in eliminating travel restrictions on Americans who want to visit Cuba.
But yesterday, he made clear what he thinks.
“Let anybody go to Cuba. If you want to categorize it, we can do that,” he said. “…My view is that people can change foreign policy. … Change has to be supported by the American people. This is why travel is important.”
Richardson explained that eliminating travel restrictions would make possible “personal, family, and cultural” relationships between Cubans and Americans, leading to common ground through which more substantive issues can be tackled.
He was later asked by a member of the audience if he would support two bills before the U.S. Congress–House Bill 874 and Senate Bill 428–that would lift travel restrictions, and if he would urge New Mexico’s Congressional delegation to sign on to the bills as co-sponsors.
“I’ll speak to them about it, but you all should, too,” he said. He also noted that Sen. Tom Udall had emerged as a leader during his years in the U.S. House of Representatives in moving forward the U.S. relationship with Cuba.
In addition to easing travel restrictions, Richardson said, other steps could include allowing diplomats of both countries to travel more freely within the respective countries; the U.S easing restrictions on the sale of U.S. products like like medical and agricultural goods to Cuba; and Cuba relaxing travel restrictions on its own citizens.
“Big” issues will need to be tackled
The “big” issues between the two countries, Richardson said, include the embargo, the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, broadcasts of Radio Marti and TV Marti into Cuba from the United States, the degree to which Cuba has a democratic political process, and human rights issues.
For the U.S., he said, there’s a desire for Cuba to allow more political expression among its people, rather than sending them to jail if they “disagree or publish something negative.”
“We’re not perfect either, especially the last eight years,” he said, before noting that the U.S. has human rights standards that Cuba has to address before normalization can fully occur.
Obama administration faces significant barriers
Richardson noted that the Treasury Department issued regulations last week that ended almost all U.S. restrictions on family travel to Cuba, as well as restrictions on how much money U.S. citizens can send to their families in Cuba. But he also extended the embargo for another year.
“The Obama administration deserves credit for implementing the travel revisions,” he said. “Bush in 2004 wiped out these humanitarian steps. He clamped down and tightened the embargo and restricted the remittances.”
Richardson said U.S. policy toward Cuba has been largely driven by the electoral votes controlled by Cuban Americans in key states, like Florida.
The U.S. President, he said, can’t end the embargo without consent of Congress due to the Helms-Burton Act. But executive orders—like easing travel restrictions—are one way to shift the political climate in the direction of Congressional approval of ending the embargo.
“This is why we need humanitarian steps done by executive order,” he said. “Congress has been a barrier.”
Cuban officials and prominent Cuban Americans should engage in talks to move toward reconciliation, and Richardson is willing to be a go between, he said.
“Saying ‘you guys need to talk’ doesn’t mean you’ll resolve things,” he said, “but it’ll help find some humanitarian areas…that help move us forward.”
The reaction to that proposal has been mixed, he said, but things are changing as well.
“Thirty years ago, you would have been killed” for proposing it, he said, while noting that the younger generations of Cuban Americans want engagement with Cuba.
“Over the years, looking at Florida electorally, the Cuban American position has been changing. The younger Cuban American population wants some kind of engagement. And among the older generation, not all are against talks.”