Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Thursday that starting to trade with Cuba "is probably a good idea" and that the lengthy economic embargo against the communist island "just hasn't worked."
Paul became the first potential Republican presidential candidate to offer some support for President Barack Obama's decision to try to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba....
"The 50-year embargo just hasn't worked," Paul said. "If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn't seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship...."
Here's the key point, I think:
He also said many U.S. farmers would back Obama's moves because the country is a new market for their crops.
Rand Paul really, really wants to win Iowa, and, as Peter Baker noted in The New York Times today, the Obama policy shift is backed by "major agricultural interests."
And if you look at the local press, you get the impression that it's backed by Iowa agricultural interests. Here's a story about the policy change from the Ottumwa Courier:
... Bob Bowman said Iowa farmers stand to benefit, along with several other Iowa industries. And Bowman should know. He's a DeWitt farmer, chairman of the Iowa Corn Promotion board and serves on the Corn Board of the National Corn Grower's Association. He also has firsthand experience in Cuba.
"I was down there about five years ago along with Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey. They were begging us to expand trade. We couldn't do that because of some of the restrictions our government placed on trade," Bowman said. "This announcement, I'm excited. Iowa Corn is excited."
It's not just Bowman who is excited. Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, released a statement saying the bureau supports the decision to normalize relations.
"Improving trade relations between the U.S. and Cuba will expand access to a market of 11 million consumers for U.S. agriculture. That's good for Cuba and good for America, too. We look forward to working closely with the administration on this issue."
Why do farmers stand to gain so much? Cuba imports a large percentage of its food. That includes food from the U.S., which was allowed after some loosening of restrictions more than a decade ago....
Also, the Business Record has this editorial, written just before the Obama announcement, by Jay Byers and Gene Meyer, respectively the CEO and president of the Greater Des Moines Partnership:
Guest Opinion: Time to lift the Cuba trade embargo
In late October, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, in conjunction with the Ankeny Area Chamber of Commerce and the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce, led a group of 70 Central Iowans on a cultural exploration mission to Cuba.... During the trip, participants were able to observe the Cuban economy firsthand, meet with the Cuban people and learn more about the recently implemented economic reforms. The trip was the latest activity in Partnership efforts dating back almost 15 years to ease travel and trade restrictions with Cuba....
There is no doubt that Cuba's poverty is the direct result of a half century of failed Marxist economic policies. However, the embargo has allowed the Castro regime to blame its problems on Washington, D.C. The U.S. represents a natural trading partner for Cuba and its 11.2 million residents, located just 90 miles from our shores. Due to the embargo, American farmers and businesses have missed out on significant economic opportunities....
Continuing to maintain a trade policy with Cuba based on an antiquated Cold War dispute no longer makes any sense. Ending the embargo would remove Cuba’s excuse for economic failure, help promote a transition to democracy and a free market economy in Cuba, improve the lives of the Cuban people and bring significant economic opportunities to American farmers and businesses.
The time for change is long overdue.
I don't know about the political affiliation of the other guys named above, but Iowa's agriculture secretary, Bill Northey, is a Republican; as noted, he led an agricultural delegation to Cuba a few years ago.
Farmers want to do business with Cuba, more than they want to cling to Cold War-era ideological purity. So I think, at least with regard to Iowa, Rand Paul is making a very smart move.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog