CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Democrat Christopher Dodd pledged Saturday that as president he would end a decades-old trade embargo with Cuba and lift travel restrictions to the communist island.
The Connecticut senator also said he would open an embassy in Havana and shut down the 17-year-old TV Marti, a U.S. government-run station that broadcasts to Cuba.
“Other than the war in Iraq, no other American policy is more broadly unpopular internationally,” Dodd said.
Dodd called the policy an “abject failure.” As president, he said he would seek a repeal of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which strengthened the U.S. embargo against Cuba. He also said taxpayers should not spend millions of dollars annually on TV Marti, which virtually no one in Cuba sees, and that he would reform Radio Marti.
The senator, who trails better known rivals in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he would work to establish U.S. mail service to Cuba. He added that he would make staying in touch with family on the island easier for Cuban-Americans by allowing U.S. companies to lower prices for phone calls there.
Dodd answered several questions in Spanish, a language he honed while serving in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. He said he has faith in the Cuban community, and in its willingness to take a look at his policy, though Cuban-Americans generally oppose any lifting of the trade embargo.
Dodd sidestepped a question on whether he would meet leaders like Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez if elected.
“Presidents don’t run around and meet with people automatically,” Dodd said.
Alfredo Mesa, a spokesman for the Cuban American National Foundation, a Miami-based political lobby, said he wasn’t surprised Dodd wanted to repeal the embargo with Cuba.
“His position has been consistently wrong,” Mesa said, while adding that Dodd recognized that changes in Cuba have to take place.
Mesa said the foundation also would disagree with shutting down TV Marti.
Dodd was in Florida for a Democratic debate today sponsored by the Spanish-language Univision Network at the University of Miami. Because only Dodd and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are fluent in Spanish, questions will be translated into English for the candidates.