Iowa Senator Tom Harkin today defended his decision to go to Cuba on a trade trip despite the arrest of several dissidents by Cuban President Fidel Castro. Harkin spoke to reporters today from his hotel room in Havana. He says while some said he shouldn’t go on the trip under these circumstances, he says a policy of isolation and embargo for 42 years has not achieved any U-S objectives or made life better for the average Cuban citizen. Harkin says he has a long record during his time in Congress as speaking out for human rights. Harkin, a democrat, says he changed his itinerary after learning of the dissidents plight so he could speak with Cuban leaders and call for their release. He says he asked to visit some of the jailed dissidents, but was denied. Harkin says he did speak with the wife of one of the dissidents, and she told him about her husband’s arrest. He says she asked him to do what he could to help get her husband out of jail and he says he intends to do that and continue speaking out against the action taken against them. Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack canceled a trip to Cuba saying it’s not the kind of atmosphere in which relations with Cuba can be improved. Harkin says he didn’t talk to the governor before leaving, but says now is not the time to escalate the isolation against Cuba, it’s the time for moderation.He says Cuba could be a good market for Iowa, and says it is comparable to China. He ways China does not allow much dissidence, but we still trade with them, and he says the more we’ve dealt and traded with China, the repression has gotten less. Harkin says we need to rethink the whole Cuba situation. He says we need to review our past policy toward Cuba with our allies and see if we might want to chart a new course, just as we did with China after Tiennemen Square. Harkin was asked about the appearance of the people he saw on the streets of Cuba. He says he didn’t see any hunger or malnutrition, he says though in terms of trade, we could be selling things in Cuba and they could be buying things from the United States.
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