WASHINGTON (AP) — Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Thursday the lengthy U.S. economic embargo against Cuba "just hasn't worked" and voiced support for opening trade with Cuba in the aftermath of the Obama administration's policy shift regarding the communist island.
Paul became the first potential Republican presidential candidate to offer some support for President Barack Obama's decision to attempt to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba. The president's surprise announcement on Wednesday was criticized by several potential GOP candidates, who said it amounted to appeasing the Castro regime.
Paul said in a radio interview with Tom Roten of News Talk 800 WVHU in Huntington, West Virginia, that many younger Cuban Americans support open trade with Cuba. And many U.S. farmers, he said, would back Obama's moves because Cuba would offer a new market for their crops.
"The 50-year embargo just hasn't worked," Paul said. "If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn't seem to be working, and probably, it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship.
"In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea," he said.
The senator's approach separates him from several potential Republican presidential hopefuls, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Paul's Senate colleagues Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. His more libertarian outlook could win him support in agricultural states like Iowa, which holds the nation's first presidential caucuses.
Paul's comments also parallel those of Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wrote in her book "Hard Choices" that the embargo was a failure that gave the Castro regime "a foil to blame for Cuba's economic woes." The former secretary of state is the leading Democratic candidate should she run for president.
Obama said Wednesday he would ease economic and travel restrictions on Cuba and attempt to partner with Congress to end the trade embargo. His announcement came after Cuba released American Alan Gross, who had been imprisoned for five years, and a Cuban who had spied for the U.S. In exchange, the U.S. freed three Cubans jailed in Florida.
Paul noted that he grew up in a family that opposed communism and at first thought opening up trade with China was a bad idea. But he said trading with China was the "best way to actually ultimately defeat communism."
His father, former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has supported lifting the Cuban embargo.
"The bottom line is, even the Cuban community is kind of coming around on this," Sen. Paul said.
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