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Democratic Senators are divided on whether to lift the years-long embargo on Cuba amid rising protests in the nation.
Democrats have historically struggled to win the support of Cuban-American voters and some see a political opportunity in the recent protests on the island. The U.S. embargo against Cuba began during the Cold War.
Barack Obama’s administration worked to normalize relations with the nation but Donald Trump’s administration added sanctions. Cuban-American voters have historically voted Republican and Mr Trump’s reelection campaign made major inroads with the voting group in South Florida.
Most Democrats expressed support for the rights of the Cuban people to protest.
“It’s good to see Cubans standing up for their rights finally,” Sen Mark Kelly of Arizona said. “And the situation there is untenable.” Mr Kelly pointed to the food shortages in the country and the impact of Covid-19.
Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia echoed those statements but only said that the U.S. needed a “comprehensive approach” that helps the Cuban people.
Meanwhile Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota co-sponsored legislation with Republican Senator Jerry Moran earlier this year to lift the embargo against Cuba.
“So right now I was focused on building more support for a bill and of course supporting the right of the protesters,” Ms Klobuchar said. A former presidential candidate, Ms Klobuchar has supported lifting the embargo and visited the nation on multiple occasions.
Senator John Hickenlooper of Colorado said he hadn’t read Klobuchar’s bill to lift the embargo but said the demonstrations were “a remarkable uprising to see there’s apparently over such a large part of the island is surprising and I think impressive.”
Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has in the past supported lifting the embargo.
“This is a time where you don’t want to give the wrong signal to the Cuban government,” Mr Cardin said. “I’m all for moving towards more normalization with Cuba but not unless there’s an acknowledgement by the Cuban officials of the rights of the people.”
But Senator Robert Menendez, who is Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the protests have nothing to do with the embargo.
“The only embargo that exists is by the Cuban regime against its own people,” Menendez said. “A regime that has flowing food and supplies at dollar stores but not for the average Cuban.”
Menendez is one of three Cuban-American Senators and the sole Cuban-American Democratic Senator. Sens Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas are Republicans and vocal critics of the regime.
Meanwhile, Sen Jon Tester of Montana said he wants to normalize relations with the nation.
“The people are great. The government has not been particularly helpful,” he said. “And we haven’t been particularly helpful to them. There’s a two-way street. So I want to normalize relations. We just gotta figure out how to do it.”