Caucus 2012: Bachmann, Johnson spar over Cuba policy


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CEDAR RAPIDS — In a caucus season largely dominated by domestic issues, trade policy with Cuba has drawn a stark line between at least two GOP hopefuls.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said resuming relations with Cuba "would be foolish" during a campaign stop here on Monday.

"Why would you normalize trading with a country that sponsors terror?" Bachmann said, surrounded by a crowd of roughly 50.

The comments came after Republican candidate and former Gov. Gary Johnson said he would be in favor of resuming flights from Florida to Cuba during last week's Fox News/Google debate.

President Obama began easing tensions between the United States and Cuba by allowing flights between Havana and Fort Lauderdale in January.


"With regard to flights to Cuba? You know, I'm — I'm in favor, I think, of the whole notion that trade promotes friendship, as opposed to not," Johnson said at the debate. "So I would be inclined to looking at establishing support for those kinds of flights."

Bachmann responded to Johnson's comments by saying Cuba is listed as one of the State Department's four nations considered state sponsors of terror, which she iterated Monday. Bachmann also said Cuba shouldn't be supported because of its alleged involvement with Hezbollah.

"There are reports that have come out that Cuba is working with another terrorist organization called Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is potentially looking at wanting to be a part of missile sites in Iran," she said.

The reports came from a Italian news article that went viral printed in early September.

"When we trade with Cuba, that means that we reward it with an increased prosperity," Bachmann said. "That's why we don't want to see Palestine become a state until and unless it renounces terrorism against Israel. That's the problem with Cuba."

But experts contended the Minnesota congresswoman may not fully understand U.S.-Cuban relations.

"There's a real question about Cuba being on [the State Department's] list," said Ann Louise Bardach, the author of Without Fidel and a foreign correspondent and Cuban-affairs expert. "Most intelligence experts, like the NSA and CIA do not believe that Cuba should be on the list."

Bardach also said Cuba isn't on the list for domestic or political reasons, noting that the United States has maintained a relationship with other hostile nations, including North Korea.

"[Cuba does] a lot of things wrong, but terrorism is not one of them," she said.

Frank Calzon, the executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, said Bachmann doesn't understand the background behind the conflict.

"She doesn't know the history of Cuba," he said. "It's kind of embarrassing."

Calzon also said there needs to be freedom in Cuba so that Cubans can engage in trade, and having a relationship with Cuba would be in the United States' interest.

"We don't need an enemy in our hemisphere," he said. "It's not doing anything for us."

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