(HELENA) Helena city leaders are calling on Congress to lift the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
The Helena City Commission voted 3-1 Monday in favor of a resolution asking for an end to restrictions on traveling and doing business in Cuba.
Commissioner Rob Farris-Olsen, who proposed the resolution, said a number of people from Helena have visited Cuba – and some Cubans have visited Helena – since U.S.-Cuba relations started to improve in 2014.
“With potential policy changes happening right now at the national level, I thought it would be a good idea for us to encourage our national delegation that we wanted normalized relations with Cuba,” Farris-Olsen said.
Under President Barack Obama’s administration, the U.S. loosened restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba and reopened its embassy in Havana for the first time in more than 50 years. However, it would require an act of Congress to change or remove the ongoing embargo.
President Donald Trump is expected to announce changes to the country’s Cuba policy later this week. That could include rolling back some of the Obama administration’s initiatives.
Supporters of Farris-Olsen’s resolution said Helena’s economy could benefit if the embargo against Cuba was lifted.
“Montana has what Cuba wants right now: agriculture, beef products, wheat products, timber,” said Jorge Quintana, a Cuban-American living in Helena. “Right now they have to buy these products from Brazil, from China. By passing resolutions like this, we encourage that trade, and Montana is ready to profit from that trade.”
Quintana also said travel restrictions have made it difficult or impossible for many Cuban-Americans to see their families in Cuba.
Commissioner Dan Ellison opposed the resolution. He said he supports normalizing relations with Cuba, but he doesn’t think the city commission should weigh in on national issues.
“I really just have a hard time believing that it’s the city of Helena’s business to tell the administration something that they’re already doing,” Ellison said.
Mayor Jim Smith said he was also reluctant to involve the city in national debates, but he supported the resolution because of a long-standing Cuban-American presence in the Helena area. A number of Cuban-Americans have lived in Helena, including dozens of teenage migrants who were placed there in the 1960s as part of a nationwide program called Operation Pedro Pan.