By Tim Hennagir
When U.S. 6th District Congressman Tom Emmer touched upon the strategic importance of Cuba during remarks made at a deployment ceremony for the 257th Military Police Company, his comments underscored the importance of a key initiative – normalization of trade relations with an island and former adversary nearly 2,000 miles away from Minnesota.
Earlier this month, Emmer (R-Minnesota) and Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-Florida) re-introduced the Cuba Trade Act to lift a long-standing embargo.
The legislation would allow businesses in the private sector to trade freely with Cuba, while prohibiting taxpayer funds to be used on promotion or development of a new market.
“Right now, our efforts are focused on educating members of Congress and President Trump on the economic and national security benefits of lifting the Cuba embargo,” Emmer stated in an email. “So many Americans are stuck in the past, not willing to look beyond what they’ve known for the last half century.”
Emmer reported he’s been meeting with fellow members of Congress and holding Cuba Working Group meetings, bringing in agriculture, cultural and security advisors, and working to gain support in Congress. Emmer said more than 70 percent of Americans support lifting the embargo.
The Cuba Working Group was established to promote increased trade, travel and investment in Cuba, to open new markets, create jobs in both countries, promote human rights and improve the security posture of the United States, Emmer explained.
In early December, Emmer and group members encouraged then President-elect Donald Trump to continue working for the continued normalization of trade relations with Cuba.
“The letter did not request a response, but instead was meant to let the president know that he has willing partners on Cuba in Congress and will continue to have conversations with the current and former administration,” Emmer stated, adding the Cuba Working Group was encouraged by Trump’s selection for agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, who came out in support of the lifting the embargo in 2010.
Trump’s selection for deputy national security advisor, K.T. McFarland, has also highlighted the strategic importance of engaging with Cuba, Emmer stated in an email.
“Cuba, the island, and Gitmo [U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay], hold an important strategic position in the Western Hemisphere,” Emmer told the soldiers and families assembled at Monticello High School during the 257th’s deployment ceremony on Jan. 28.
Regarding prisoner interrogations and the possibility of Trump setting up high-level policy reviews to make further recommendations to lift the ban on CIA “black site” prisons, Emmer said his office has not received any advanced information from the White House on the issue.
“The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which I supported, prohibited the use of interrogation techniques which are not consistent with the U.S. Army Field Manual,” Emmer stated. “Any change to this policy should be thoroughly vetted and reviewed by Congress.”
The 2015 NDAA also required numerous reports and periodic reviews of the Army Field Manual and the nation’s overall approach to intelligence collection and interrogation techniques, Emmer stated.
“I look forward to working with Congress, the president, newly-confirmed CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the rest of our national security community to ensure the U.S. policies are of the highest moral standards while maintaining our constitutional duty to protect and defend the United States,” Emmer stated.
Last week, Emmer’s staff announced his first town hall meeting of the year would take place later this month in Stearns County.
The town hall meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22, at Sartell City Hall, 125 Pine Cone Road N. At the beginning of his first term in Congress, Emmer promised to remain transparent, accountable and accessible. He held 24 town hall meetings in 24 months. The town halls were so successful that Emmer said he plans to do more of the same in the 115th Congress.
“Town halls are a great way for me to hear directly from the people of the Sixth District,” Emmer stated in a news release. “We will be accomplishing a lot in the new Congress, so I look forward to speaking with my constituents, listening to their concerns, and learning all about what they hope to see achieved over the next two years.”
The Monticello Chamber of Commerce will host a “Pancakes and Politics” event with Emmer from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Friday, Feb. 24, at The Friendly Buffalo, 16722 198th Ave. in Big Lake.
According to the chamber’s website, Emmer will provide perspectives on the 115th Congress and how legislators are working with the new administration. The informal question-and-answer session includes pancakes, eggs and sausage. Register online at www.monticellocci.com. There is a $20 cost to attend the breakfast event.