CIMARRON — Despite being in favor of a closer relationship between the United States and Cuba, Sen. Jerry Moran told a small group Monday during a town hall meeting that President Barack Obama’s visit to the island is “premature.”
This week, Obama became the first sitting American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
In a meeting with President Raul Castro, the two leaders agreed the more than half-century long trade embargo between their countries should end.
During his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, Moran said, he has pushed for lifting the embargo and allowing Americans to travel to Cuba.
“Unilateral sanctions don’t work,” Moran told a group of 10 people who gathered in the Gray County Courthouse.
The discussion covered a wide range of topics and was part of the senator’s “listening tour” across the state.
Limiting trade has not convinced the Cuban government to do enough to maintain human rights and freedom of expression for its people, Moran said.
“I think it’s premature for the president to visit Cuba,” Moran said. “I want changes in (the Cuban government’s) behavior before the president visits.”
Cimarron was Moran’s third stop on Monday. He also spoke in Ness City, Dodge City, Jetmore and Kinsley.
Developing agricultural trade relations with Cuba will allow the Cuban people to put more pressure on the Cuban government to change its behavior, Moran said.
“Cuba is not a huge market, but with today’s low commodity prices in agriculture, we need every market we can get,” he said. “Rather than them buying wheat from France, it will be nice to have the opportunity to sell Kansas wheat to Cubans.”
Moran also touched on Guantánamo Bay. The U.S. maintains control over the southern portion of Guantánamo Bay on the southeastern side of Cuba, and has a naval base there that contains the Guantánamo Bay detention camp.
Moran is opposed to relocating any of the 91 people currently held in the prison to within the borders of the United States. Of those, 34 remain imprisoned after being cleared for release by the government, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Moran cited testimony by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in November saying the Obama administration is legally prohibited from transferring Guantánamo prisoners to the U.S.
Closing the prison remains an unfulfilled campaign promise made by Obama in 2008.
Of the 780 prisoners held at Guantánamo since it opened in January 2002, 680 have been released or transferred, one was transferred to the U.S. for trial, and nine have died, according to a New York Times analysis of thousands of pages of government documents, court records and news media reports.
The U.S. military has agreements with the governments in Iraq and Afghanistan about where to send captured enemies, Moran said, but does not have similar agreements about where to send enemies captured in Libya or Syria.
In 2003, a panel that included Judge Merrick Garland rejected a lawsuit from Guantánamo prisoners challenging their detention without trial.
On March 16, Obama nominated Garland to become a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court to fill the seat left vacant by the late justice Antonin Scalia.
While the nomination process should move forward, Moran said Wednesday, it is unlikely to happen.
Supreme Court justices are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has said Garland’s nomination will not be considered.
“I would rather have you (constituents) complaining to me that I voted wrong on nominating somebody than saying I’m not doing my job,” Moran said.
Republican senators should interview Garland and have a hearing on his nomination, Moran said.
“I can’t imagine the president has or will nominate somebody that meets my criteria, but I have my job to do,” Moran said. “I think the process ought to go forward.”
When Moran arrived in the Senate in January 2011, he said, the first conversation he had with Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, was about how Congress wasn’t going to be getting anything done.
“I’ve never shown up to a job before saying we’re not going to work,” Moran said.