Cuban-American senator vows to block Peterson’s Cuba travel bill

WASHINGTON — Sen. Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American lawmaker from New Jersey, has vowed to filibuster a bill that would end the travel ban to Cuba and increase agricultural exports to that country if the measure makes it to the Senate floor.

The measure is moving in the House, where it is being spearheaded by Rep. Collin Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.  Sen. Amy Klobuchar has sponsored a companion measure in the Senate, though it has stagnated in favor of moving Peterson’s bill.

Peterson’s bill is being marked up today in the Agriculture Committee, where it is expected to be approved. The measure is likely to clear the House if and when it’s put up for a vote.

But Menendez has vowed to try and stop the bill if it reaches the upper chamber.

“I oppose and will filibuster any attempt to pass the bill in the Senate,” Menendez said in a scorching statement released this afternoon.

“The big corporate interests behind this bill couldn’t care less about whether the Cuban people are free or not — they only care about padding their profits by opening up a new market. The very fact that a travel bill is going through an agriculture committee makes one wonder why agriculture interests even care about travel to Cuba, unless it is to generate money for the Castro regime to buy agricultural goods.”

In fact, the bill would be a boon for agriculture, generating millions for Minnesota’s agricultural industry.

Minnesota currently exports about $60 million annually in agricultural products to Cuba, and U.S. exports make up about 30 percent of Cuba’s agricultural exports. A 2007 International Trade Commission report said that number could rise to between 50 and 67 percent if current restrictions were eased, as Peterson’s bill aims.

Peterson, during a March hearing on the topic, dismissed an embargo in place since 1960 (supported by Menendez and others) as ineffective and harmful to U.S. interests.

“America’s current policies have failed to achieve their stated goal and instead they have hand-delivered an export market in our own backyard to the Brazilians, the Europeans and our other competitors around the world,” he said. “It’s time we ask ourselves why we have in place policies that simply do not work and that only harm U.S. interests.”

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