BOISE — After a lively debate Monday morning, a bill to urge Congress to open up trade and travel with Cuba will advance to a full hearing. Toward the end of the hearing Rep. Brent Crane (R-Nampa) stepped out of the room to call his Cuban father-in-law.
“He said the time is right, the time is here to lift that embargo,” Crane reported back to the committee.
Crane’s father-in-law, who left the island in a boat in 1959, did not always feel that way. He has been back to Cuba to visit twice recently and has changed his mind about the efficacy of U.S. policy there.
Moscow Rep Tom Trail on the phone
at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba last Spring.
Photo by Nathaniel Hoffman
The bill’s sponsor, Moscow Republican Rep. Tom Trail, who has the support of the governor’s office, wants the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration to end the 46-year embargo against Cuba and allow Americans to travel there freely. Trail fielded several questions about U.S.-Cuba policy and specifically about Cuban-Americans’ attitudes.
Rep. Eric Anderson (R-Priest Lake), who voted against introducing the measure, said there are 1.4 million people in Idaho and 2.7 million Cuban expatriates in the U.S. How do the Cuban-Americans feel about opening up trade and travel, Anderson asked?
Trail told the committee that an increasing number of Cuban-Americans, particularly the younger generation, supports engagement and free travel.
Some committee members were also concerned that the state Legislature was wading into federal territory in debating foreign policy. But many states including Idaho have an interest in doing business with Cuba, Trail said. Cuba even imports sugar now, though Idaho’s sugar beet sugar is not a likely source for the Caribbean island, he added.
Trail has been to Cuba twice, most recently in April 2007 with a state trade delegation.
Anderson further argued that opening trade with the island should be contingent on opening up successful diplomatic relations first. He was also concerned about Cuba’s commitment to Human Rights and to the free market.
Trail assured Anderson that high ranking Cuban officials, including Ricardo Alarcon, the head of the Cuban parliament, had indicated to him that they welcomed diplomatic relations with the United States.
In 2002 the Idaho Legislature debated and eventually passed a resolution urging and end to violence and self-determination for the Basque Country. The U.S. State Department intervened, reminding the Idaho Legislature who makes foreign policy.
Trail and others on the committee argued that this resolution was different because of Idaho’s direct interest in trade with Cuba.
Speaking in favor of at least introducing the bill, Nampa Republican John Vander Woude made a slip of the tongue that drew belly laughs from his colleagues: “I’m not saying I’m in favor of the Revolution er, resolution.”