ST. PAUL (AP) -- A top U.S. State Department official said Friday that Gov. Jesse Ventura should cancel his trip to Cuba.
Otto Reich, assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, criticized American politicians who visit Cuba, saying that Fidel Castro "uses these visitors as props." He also had harsh words for the U.S. business and farm leaders who think such exchanges will lead to greater openness.
"Doing business with Castro only helps sustain him in power," said Reich, who was born in Cuba and fled to the United States after Castro came to power.
His comments came a week after Florida Gov. Jeb Bush urged Ventura to cancel the Sept. 25-28 trip. Both comments reflect the intensifying battle between Cuban dissidents, mainly in Florida, and Midwest farmers, who are eager to sell food to Cuba.
Ventura will become the third governor to visit Cuba, following George Ryan of Illinois and John Hoeven of North Dakota, both Republicans. But Ventura's high profile, as a political independent and former entertainer, is likely to bring more attention to his visit and the broader debate about the relationship between the United States and Cuba.
Ventura plans to attend the first-ever U.S. Food and Agribusiness Exposition in Havana, a event sanctioned by the U.S. government to promote the sale of American food products in Cuba.
Ventura spokesman John Wodele said the governor won't cancel the trip.
"He's going to represent hard-working agribusiness workers and farmers in Minnesota, and he believes there's great grassroots support for this mission," Wodele said.
Ten Minnesota food companies will be participating.
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