George McGovern heading to Cuba to visit Castro

Former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern said he plans to board a plane to Cuba on Friday and visit old friend Fidel Castro for the first time in nearly 17 years.

McGovern, who turns 89 on July 19, said he wants to see Castro while the former Cuban president is still alive.

"I've lost enough friends with regrets that I didn't go see them while they were still alive, so I want to see him," McGovern said Wednesday from a grocery store near his winter home in St. Augustine, Fla.

McGovern last visited Cuba in 1994, which was his seventh trip to the island nation since 1975.

McGovern said he wasn't invited on his latest trip, but contacted people close to Castro, who assured him the 84-year-old former leader would be happy to meet with him.

McGovern said he has no agenda, and doesn't know what he and Castro will discuss. He said they likely will touch upon the United States' 49-year economic embargo against Cuba.

"It's a stupid policy," McGovern said of the embargo. "There's no reason why we can't be friends with the Cubans, and vice versa. A lot of them have relatives in the United States, and some Americans have relatives in Cuba, so we should have freedom of travel."

McGovern said embittered Cuban exiles in Miami have kept the embargo alive all these years by "making sure that every congressman knows that Castro is a monster and we shouldn't have anything to do with him."

The former presidential candidate called that thinking "foolish," saying Castro is an intelligent man who admires the United States.

"We seem to think it's safe to open the door to a billion communists in China ... but for some reason, we're scared to death of the Cubans," McGovern said.

McGovern served South Dakota in the U.S. House from 1957 to 1961, and in the U.S. Senate from 1963 to 1981. But he's best known for his loss to Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential race.

McGovern ran again in 1984, but he withdrew after the New Hampshire primary.

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