The seven Democratic presidential candidates who shared a stage at a forum in Iowa Saturday night differed over the speed with which the U.S. should re-establish ties with communist Cuba. According to Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, it should happen now. "I think we’re making a huge mistake by not normalizing relations with Cuba," Dodd said. "The only one who has benefitted has been Fidel Castro."
Dodd said the U.S. helped break the Soviet Union and other countries behind the "Iron Curtain" in Europe by establishing ties with those countries and allowing Americans to travel to those countries. "This is the only country int he world where Americans are not allowed to travel there because our country prohibits them from going there," Dodd said. "…This embargo has done nothing but keep Fidel Castro in power."
But New York Senator Hillary Clinton while envisions a day, sometime soon, when Americans can freely trade with Cuba and travel to the island nation, she would not end the embargo today. "I think we’re going to have that opportunity because when Fidel Castro does pass on, there will be a a tremendous, pent-up desire on the part of the Cuban people for freedom, for democracy," Clinton said.
Clinton held out the possibility some restrictions against Cuba could be lifted, though, if the communist government took some steps to correct human rights abuses and to release political prisoners. "But until there is some recognition on the part of whoever is in charge of the Cuba government that they have to move toward democracy and freedom for the Cuban people it will be very difficult for us to change our policy," Clinton said.
Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards was also reluctant to normalize trade with Cuba until Castro is gone. "Not unless and until something has happened with Castro," Edwards said.
Delaware Senator Joe Biden said Castro’s exit from power is essential, unless Castro dramatically — and surprisingly — changes his stand on key issues. "We have to reach out to the Cuban people right now because (Castro) is not going to last," Biden said. "…The bottom line is we have to have a plan. There is no plan…We’ve got to normalize relations with ’em eventually."
Illinois Senator Barack Obama said there are two things the U.S. should do to prepare for Castro’s exit from the scene: allow Cuban Americans to visit family members in Cuba and loosen up restrictions which make it difficult for Cuban Americans to send money to Cuba to support family members there. "I would not normalize relations, but those two things, those two shifts in policy would send a signal that we can build on once Castro’s out of power," Obama said.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson agreed the embargo isn’t working, but Richardson said Cuba at least would have to release political prisoners before U.S. trade could resume with Cuba after a four-decade-long hiatus. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich favors an immediate lifting of the trade embargo against Cuba.
The candidates made their comments Saturday night at the "Brown, Black Forum" held in the auditorium of a Des Moines high school.