The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO DE PAULA, Cuba (AP) - New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Wednesday he plans to report to Barack Obama's administration his assessment of Cuba-U.S. relations following a five-day trade mission to the island even though he is not an official envoy of Washington.
Richardson is meeting with a host of Cuban government officials, including a scheduled encounter Thursday with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. He met Monday with Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's parliament. So far, everyone has brought up the U.S. embargo and other aspects of U.S. policy, Richardson said, without elaborating.
"I'm not an envoy of the (Obama) administration. I'm carrying no message. I'm here as a governor seeking agricultural trade," he said.
"Obviously I do plan to submit my impressions to the administration after I conclude," he added. "I will do that as a citizen and as a governor. They're my impressions alone."
As a congressman, Richardson secured the release of three Cuban political prisoners during talks with then-President Fidel Castro in Havana in 1996. As U.N. ambassador in 1997, he held talks on terrorism with then-Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina.
Richardson supported Obama's declaration during last year's U.S. presidential campaign that he would be open to meeting current President Raul Castro without preconditions. The governor also has opposed lifting the U.S. embargo, while advocating negotiations with Cuba to promote human rights.
The Obama administration has relaxed restrictions on Cuban Americans' travel and money transfers to family on the island. Most U.S. citizens cannot visit ‚- technically, the U.S. Treasury Department bars them from spending money in Cuba - in tandem with the U.S. embargo imposed in 1962 to weaken Cuba's Communist government.
The U.S. and Cuba also are resuming talks on migration and direct mail, but they have sparred over a U.S. suggestion that Havana release its political prisoners. Cuba insists that any dialogue have no preconditions.
Richardson made his remarks to The Associated Press while visiting Ernest Hemingway's former villa, Finca Vigia, in San Francisco de Paula, 15 miles (25 kilometers) east of central Havana.
Richardson marveled at Hemingway's extensive book and art collections, his mounted trophies from hunting expeditions in Africa and Idaho, his office and his fishing boat, El Pilar, during a tour of the villa. The governor donated a replica of a vintage telephone used by Hemingway to curators of the home, now a museum, on behalf of the state of New Mexico - and said all U.S. citizens should be able to visit such cultural gems.
"There's a link between Hemingway and the United States and Cuba, and now there's a New Mexico link," he said. "I think enhancing cultural and artistic and educational ties is a prelude to diplomatic and commercial ties. It always happens that way."
"I'm for enhanced tourism travel for Americans."
Richardson said that travel should go beyond the so-called people-to-people educational and cultural contacts promoted by the Bill Clinton administration. Opponents of enhanced travel argue it would only help subsidize a government that doesn't tolerate dissent.
Richardson and state Cabinet officials are promoting exports of New Mexico beef, corn, wheat, potatoes and apples. Despite the embargo, U.S. states can sell agricultural and certain other products to Cuba, though sales on credit are prohibited.