Arkansas lawmakers criticize Trump shifting Cuba policy

By ANDREW DeMILLO The Associated Press
This article was published June 17, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.

LITTLE ROCK -- Members of Arkansas' congressional delegation criticized President Donald Trump's decision to restore some travel and economic restrictions that were lifted under his predecessor, saying the move will hurt efforts to open up a new market for the state's farmers.

Rep. Rick Crawford and Sen. John Boozman, who have been pushing to further ease restrictions with the country, said they opposed Trump's plan to reinstate the restrictions on travel to Cuba and business transactions. Trump challenged the communist government of Raul Castro to negotiate a better deal for Cubans and Cuban-Americans.

"I strongly oppose President Trump's decision to reinstate a failed, outdated, and isolationist posture towards Cuba," Crawford, who represents east Arkansas' farm-heavy 1st Congressional District, said in a statement. "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."

Boozman said he agreed with Trump pushing for democratic reforms in Cuba, but called restoring the restrictions 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," he said in a statement. "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."

Arkansas has had limited trade with Cuba under the embargo. Boozman and Crawford have been advocating to allow agricultural goods to be sold on credit through private financing.

State officials have said Arkansas' rice industry would be the biggest beneficiary of further easing restrictions between the two nations. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2015 was the first governor to travel to Cuba since the former Cold War foes reopened embassies in their respective countries. Hutchinson said he was glad Trump planned to keep the U.S. embassy open in Cuba.

"I 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," Hutchinson said. "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."

State Desk on 06/17/2017
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