A panoramic view of Havana, Cuba. (Photo: The White House)

My historic visit to Cuba, in pictures

This week I joined the President and a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on a historic trip to Cuba. Here’s what I did and saw.

On the tarmac with other Members of Congress on our historic visit to Cuba. (Photo: Rep. Cheri Bustos)

Returning from the President’s historic trip to Cuba, I’m hopeful we’re one step closer to expanding U.S. agricultural exports to a market 90 miles from our shores.

Attending the state dinner, the President’s speech to the Cuban people, and an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team — along with many other meetings with Cuban and U.S. leaders — reinforced that Americans and the Cuban people have much in common.

Exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team. (Photo: The White House)

North Dakota farmers aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit from increased trade, though. More dialogue and engagement can also translate into more leverage to improve human rights for the Cuban people.

Cheering on the Tampa Bay Rays in Havana with Reps. Ed Perlmutter (left) and Cheri Bustos (right). (Photo: Rep. Cheri Bustos)

As one Cuban-American business leader who had previously fought against easing the embargo said on the trip: “It’s time that we stop fighting and start cooperating.”

In meetings with political dissidents and Cuban entrepreneurs — like young restaurant owners hungry to buy North Dakota food products — I saw how expanding trade could boost emerging small businesses and improve the lives of average Cubans.

My hope is that, via trade and people-to-people contact between our citizens, we can support the Cuban entrepreneurs and young people I met, creating brighter futures for both the United States and the Cuban people.

Promoting North Dakota agricultural products

In Cuba with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. (Photo: KFGO)

It was an honor to represent North Dakota and North Dakota producers on this visit. Everywhere I went in Cuba, folks had met farmers and agriculture leaders from North Dakota who have traveled to Cuba to support our state’s top-notch agricultural products — just like I did on my first visit to Cuba, in 2014.

The Cuban people know well the quality of our products, and they’re eager to buy more. That’s why it was exciting when USDA announced it had agreed to my request to allow federal checkoff programs — which market American commodities — to use producer-generated funds promoting our products in Cuba.

This is a change I’ve long pushed for, first at a U.S. Senate hearing in April of last year. Now, I’ll keep pushing to open up trade with my bill to ease financing restrictions on U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba. North Dakota farmers have told me this is their biggest barrier, and my bill would work to solve it.

Shining a light on human rights

A vintage car — one of many — on the streets of Cuba. (Photo: KFGO)

Promoting trade to Cuba should in no way obscure Cuba’s very real human rights challenges. In fact, trade should have the opposite effect — it should encourage Cuba to improve and become a freer society.

When I spoke with Cuban President Raul Castro at the United Nations in New York last year to promote North Dakota agriculture, he asked me what Cuba could do to encourage the U.S. to lift the 50-year embargo on trade to his country.

My response was simple: Improve human rights in Cuba.

In Cuba this week we were able to meet with political dissidents, and it’s my belief that expanding trade and the free flow of ideas will only expand human rights in Cuba — as enhanced engagement with other countries has spread free speech and democracy across the globe.

Building bipartisan support in the U.S.

A photo of me — on the far right — and many other U.S. lawmakers. (Photo: Rep. Al Green)

After a 50-year embargo on trade, little has changed in the U.S.-Cuba relationship.

It’s time that we give trade and dialogue a chance, as we began to do on this trip.

Are all of the problems in Cuba solved after this visit? Of course not. But we took some big strides in the right direction, and the bipartisan delegation that traveled with the President will keep pushing to build momentum to further open up trade between our countries. The trip was just a few days in the life of the United States’ relationship with Cuba — but they were very important days.

Air Force One lands in Cuba for the President’s visit. (Photo: Reuters)