LITTLE ROCK — President Donald Trump’s announcement Friday that his administration will reinstate some travel and trade restrictions against Cuba drew sharp criticism from two members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation and the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
Republican Sen. John Boozman said in a statement Friday he shares Trump’s desire to see democracy take hold in Cuba but believes that “a return to embargo-like policies is the wrong approach.”
“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 working relationship with a government in need of democratic assistance, instead of shutting them out,” he said.
Republican Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro said in a statement, “I strongly oppose President Trump’s decision to reinstate a failed, outdated, and isolationist posture towards Cuba. This policy change is not just a missed opportunity for rural America, which would greatly benefit from increased access to the island’s $2 billion agricultural imports market.
“This policy shift also poses an unjustifiable risk to our national security, as further U.S. disengagement opens up opportunities for countries like Iran, Russia, North Korea and China to gain influence on an island 90 miles off our coast. Finally, restricting travel and trade and limiting our ability to export American democracy and values will hinder efforts to improve human rights and religious liberties in Cuba,” Crawford said.
Boozman and Crawford have sponsored legislation aimed at facilitating agricultural trade with Cuba.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Cotton, who was critical of former President Barack Obama’s easing of travel and trade restrictions against the island nation, did not immediately respond Friday to an email seeking comment.
Randy Veach, president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said in a statement the organization believes Trump’s action is “a step in the wrong direction.”
“There is no better diplomacy than making food available to another country. Having been to Cuba, I understand the great opportunities for Arkansas agriculture to expand our markets there, and also to go a long way toward improving the quality of life for the people of Cuba,” Veach said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has made a trade mission to Cuba as governor, expressed support for Trump’s pledge to put political pressure on Cuba while keeping open the U.S. embassy there.
“As governor, I have continually stated that lifting the Cuban embargo isn’t an all-or-nothing approach,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “The Cuban government has violated human rights for more than 50 years, and I applaud the president’s efforts to maintain political pressure on a regime that stands in contrast with the very values of the United States.”
Trump said he would “urge the administration and Congress to focus on constructive policy with Cuba that would benefit Americans, especially Arkansas-based agriculture, by lifting the credit restrictions on agriculture. There is a tremendous opportunity for success in Cuba for Arkansas farmers, and the lifting of credit restrictions on agriculture is a logical first step.”