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 of American policy toward Cuba.
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 its companion, 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 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 the 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 their 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, without directly answering the question.
Meeting with leaders without preconditions is an issue Dodd's fellow Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton have sparred over. Dodd said of his opponents' answers: "One was far too rigid and one was far too simplistic."
Alfredo Mesa, a spokesman for the Cuban American National Foundation, a Miami-based political lobby, said he wasn't surprised by Dodd's statements.
"His position has been consistently wrong," Mesa said, while adding that Dodd recognized that changes in Cuba have to take place.
Alberto Mascaro, chief of staff for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which oversees TV and Radio Marti, said he had no comment.
Dodd was in Florida for a Democratic debate Sunday 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.
Dodd joked it's a shame the debate won't be entirely in Spanish.