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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bill Richardson discusses trip to Cuba

Heather Clark, Associated Press Writer
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ALBUQUERQUE , N.M. (AP) - Gov.. Bill Richardson, who says he's opposed to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba , is calling on the two countries to build trust by improving humanitarian issues before tackling the 47-year-old embargo and other major matters.
Richardson spoke Tuesday at the University of New Mexico about his trip to Cuba last month.
The Democratic governor says he wants to see American medical products and Cuban biotechnology licensed for sale in each other's country and for American agricultural products to be sold in Cuba .
Richardson also says visa restrictions and red tape should be lifted to allow more U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba for cultural exchanges.
"First take humanitarian steps, human rights steps, freedom of travel steps before we deal with the big issues," he said.
Richardson said major issues facing the neighboring countries include the trade embargo, the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay , and the U.S. government's radio and TV Marti broadcasts into Cuba .
"I see those as big, broad issues that maybe in a year we should address, but in between, deal with some personal, family, cultural issues," he said.
Richardson also suggests Cuba make changes in return - for example, allowing its citizens to travel more freely to the United States , releasing political prisoners and establishing democracy.
The Democratic governor said he talked with Cuban officials about meeting with influential Cuban-Americans to iron out humanitarian parameters that would make life easier for people in both countries.
The governor, who knows ex-President Fidel Castro, said he met twice with Ricardo Alarcon, the head of Cuba 's parliament, and other officials on his most recent trip. He did not meet with Castro or his younger brother, Raul Castro.
Richardson spoke of a "pathway to normalization" of relations between the two countries.
"I am for getting rid of the embargo. I want some things in return, like a good negotiator. But I don't think it's worked. I think it's hampered two nations that naturally should be in line with each other," Richardson said.
Richardson said President Barack Obama's administration deserves credit for allowing Cubans and their families to travel back and forth more easily and send money back to their families in Cuba .
Obama's recent moves are supported by Cubans and created a "good" atmosphere during Richardson 's negotiations with Cuban officials, the governor said.
"There's an expectation that he's going to change things. There's impatience, but the vibes are good," Richardson said. "Let's proceed on these humanitarian issues and try to resolve as many as we can and then build some trust, because there's a lot of mistrust."
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Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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