Colorado lawmakers divided over President Trump's Cuba reversal

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Washington, D.C.-, June 17, 2017 | comments

President Donald Trump's announcement Friday that he plans to tighten restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba drew mixed reactions from Colorado lawmakers, with Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner voicing support and Democrats U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter calling the move "a mistake" and "shortsighted."

"Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration's completely one-sided deal with Cuba," Trump said at an appearance in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, although it turns out he is only rolling back some of the policies his predecessor put in place over the last year to open up relations with the communist country.

Trump tore into former President Barack Obama in front of an audience made up largely of Cuban exiles and their descendants in a theater named for a leader of the failed 1961 U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion.

"They made a deal with a government that spread violence and instability in the region and nothing they got - think about it - nothing they got - they fought for everything and we just didn't fight hard enough, but now, those days are over. We now hold the cards," Trump said. "The previous administration's easing of restrictions of travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime."

He announced plans to restrict U.S. businesses and citizens from doing business with Cuban companies owned by the country's military - amounting to vast swaths of the island nation's economy, experts said - and to forbid American individuals from traveling to Cuba while also imposing additional restrictions on group tours.

But Trump leaves in place the newly opened U.S. Embassy in Havana, as well as regular direct flights and cruises to Cuba. He also doesn't plan to restore the so-called "wet feet, dry feet" immigration policy - repealed by Obama - that allowed Cuban migrants who reached U.S. soil to stay. Americans will still be able to bring Cuban cigars home, too.

Gardner said the administration's new policies mean it's up to the Cuban government to lift its own restrictions on the Cuban people before the United States further thaws relations between the two countries.

"U.S. policy toward Cuba should be guided by U.S. national security interests and promoting our values, and the Obama Administration's unilateral concessions to an oppressive Castro regime failed to meet that goal," Gardner said in a statement. "Expanding U.S. commercial interests and introducing U.S. investment in Cuba should be coupled with the Cuban government's concrete and irreversible steps to ensure the democratic rights and freedoms of its people. The choice now lies with Havana whether to take these actions."

But Bennet, who visited Cuba with a congressional delegation in February, called Trump's move "disappointing" and said it stands to stymie potential export markets for Colorado businesses and agriculture producers.

"The president's decision to revert back toward an old policy of isolation with Cuba - a policy that failed to work for decades - is a mistake," Bennet said in a statement.

"American businesses and farmers deserve an opportunity to compete in the Cuban market. Colorado has a tremendous amount to gain from the U.S.-Cuba relationship. Our farmers and ranchers stand to expand their markets for products like beef and wheat. And our thriving technology and energy sectors are well-positioned to export to Havana. This disappointing announcement does nothing but limit economic and cultural potential for our state and country."

Perlmutter noted that he accompanied Obama on his historic trip to Cuba in March 2016, when the Arvada Democrat applauded potential new business, tourism and cultural opportunities.

"President Trump's reversal on Cuba is unfortunate and shortsighted," Perlmutter said in a statement. "As someone who had the privilege of traveling to Cuba with President Obama, I saw firsthand how the country has a desire for openness and information. There's so much economic potential for Colorado industries such as agriculture, renewable energy and biotechnology that stand to benefit from the normalized relations with Cuba and now those opportunities are in doubt."

Trump signed a memorandum on Friday directing the Treasury and Commerce departments to start issuing regulations under the revised policy within 30 days. The White House noted that the additional restrictions won't be put in place until the federal departments have finalized the new regulations, which could take several months.

Content originally published by The Gazette on June 17, 2017.
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