Topeka — Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' administration wants the United States to lift trade restrictions with Cuba, but a Cuban-born state legislator warned the proposal would increase President Fidel Castro's oppression in his homeland.
State Rep. Mario Goico, R-Wichita, said any proposal to open relations between the United States and Cuba must include declarations of Castro's human rights violations and his role in acts of terrorism and spying.
State Rep. Dan Johnson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said Tuesday that he originally thought the resolution urging relaxation of U.S. trade restrictions with Cuba would have sailed through the committee. Several states, eyeing trade possibilities with Cuba, have passed similar resolutions. But after Goico's testimony, Johnson, R-Hays, said the Kansas resolution might have to be altered to include some mention of human rights abuses.
"He had a powerful message," Johnson said of Goico's testimony.
Johnson said the committee probably would decide today what to do with the resolution.
Goico, who fled Cuba when he was 15, later joined the Kansas Air National Guard. He became a pilot who reached the rank of colonel and flew combat support missions in Operation Desert Storm.
"Any resolution about Cuba has to deal with the human rights atrocities that are occurring," he said.
But Lt. Gov. John Moore and several major agribusiness groups said opening the Cuban market would help Kansas farmers sell their products and raise the standard of living for Cubans.
"It is a country in complete disrepair. There is so much opportunity for U.S. products," said Moore, who visited Cuba in December with several trade groups on behalf of the state.
The 40-year U.S. embargo against Cuba has not worked, Moore said. "Fidel Castro is 76 years old. We need to begin to prepare for life after Fidel," he said.
Several committee members said opening trade would provide Cubans with more goods and increase the appeal of capitalism while also benefitting Kansas farmers and ranchers.