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Trump's Cuba Shift Leaves Arkansas Agriculture Behind

GOP presidential primary frontrunner Donald Trump.
Charlie Neibergall/ AP

The interests of Arkansas’s agricultural leaders went unheralded by President Trump on Friday as he announced a move back toward Cold War relations with our Caribbean neighbor, Cuba. Much of the state’s Congressional delegation has also chimed in on the prospect of tougher relations as a move in the wrong direction.

The Arkansas Farm Bureau wants a “normalization” of trade relations with the communist nation and promises it’ll be an economic boon for the state. Arkansas is the largest cultivator of rice in the nation and not far behind that in poultry production.

The President demanded Cuba free all of its political prisoners and hold democratic elections before he’d lift sanctions. Trump did not address the desires of U.S. agricultural interest during his remarks. Despite the snub, the Arkansas Farm Bureau’s Director of Public Affairs and Governmental Relations, Zac Bradley, thinks the President is still aware of the economic benefits of opening up the Cuban market.

“I feel confident the President has heard from the agriculture industry and does understand the nuances and the complications around the embargo and the difficulties of moving commodities,” said Bradley.

He inferred that issues other than agriculture were driving the President’s decision, “He is aware of the opportunity but I guess more, politically motivated reasons, were also part of it.”

Senator John Boozman (R) said the move back to restrict relations between the two nations is the “wrong direction.”

“I share the President’s desire to see democracy take hold in Cuba, as well as his commitment to ending human rights abuses carried out by the Castro regime. However, a return to embargo-like policies is the wrong approach. We ran this play over and over again for fifty years and the results have not changed."

Boozman's statement continued.

"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. Through this approach, we not only trade goods, but ideas. The two go hand-in-hand. I will continue to work with my colleagues to promote policies that help the U.S remain competitive and create jobs at home, while pushing for human rights and democratic change in Cuba.”

U.S. Representative Rick Crawford (R-1st District) didn't mince words in his disapproval of the President on this particular issue, “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 $2B 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."

He continued in a statement, "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. I strongly urge reconsideration of this decision, and as policy changes continue, I will work with the President to find more productive ways to bring about the changes we all want to see in Cuba.”

Crawford has been advocating for legislation that would ease credit restrictions with Cuba. Current law requires cash for what limited agricultural and commodities trading is allowed. Senator Boozman is behind similar legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Bradley says the Farm Bureau is supportive of those concepts. He says “the path forward is to continue to work on legislative proposals.”

Senator Tom Cotton (R) is the outlier in the state’s delegation. He generally favors tougher policies toward the communist nation. Cotton particularly has disdain for dealings he think would bolster the Castro regime.

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