US Congressional delegation concludes visit to Cuba

US members of Congress at a press conference in Havana (Luz Escobar)
US members of Congress at a press conference in Havana (Luz Escobar)

Monday afternoon several United States members of Congress visiting Cuba held a press conference at the Saratoga Hotel. The meeting with foreign correspondents and independent media addressed the talks between the two governments and served as a culmination of the congressional delegation’s visit to the island.

Senator Patrick Leahy, in his remarks, emphasized that US policy toward Cuba “changed overnight.” He also spoke about the cooperation received from the Catholic Church, especially Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino.

Leahy was visibly moved when he touched on the release of US contractor Alan Gross, whom the senator accompanied on his journey back to the United States on the day of his release, this last December 17.

When asked if these negotiations would vary in any way the help that the American government provides to the internal dissidence in Cuba, Senator Deborah Ann Stabenow said, “Our long-term goal is not only to create relationships involving the economy, research and trade, but also to create, through information and transparency, the freedom that the Cuban people deserve and need.”

“We have to take it a step at a time,” Stabenow emphasized, saying that this visit is very important. “We are the first group to come to Cuba since President Obama made his decision … well, the decision of both presidents.”

With regards to the economic situation in Cuba and the possible relief for the Cuban population that reestablishment of economic relations could bring the senator added, “We don’t want people to continually be worrying about if there will be potatoes or pork or beef or milk or fruit in the markets.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, for his part, said that most of the meetings held so far have perceived a “time of hope.” “People are very excited and the more contact there is, the more we will notice the difference,” added the representative from Maryland Christopher Van Hollen. “We have to move forward with what can be done with regards to practical matters,” said Van Hollen.

Senator Richard Joseph Durbin, from Illinois, stressed the historical character of the visit of the high level American delegation, led by Roberta Jackson, that will arrive in Cuba this coming Wednesday. “What we are doing is more than opening up to trade and travel. It is about opening up a relationship to exchange ideas and that this opening to ideas will help to foster values and basic human rights.”

During the brief trip the members of Congress did not meet with President Raul Castro, but they did hold a meeting with dissidents on Sunday. In statements to  14ymedio, Durbin replied to the question of whether the meeting with activists may have influenced the fact that the General did not receive them. “I do not know what the decision process was, but every time I visit a country I have tried to listen to both sides of the story and that’s what we did yesterday.” To which he added “We will continue to do that and I hope that [the government of] Cuba respects the fact that that’s what we do wherever we travel.”

The members of Congress concluded their visit this afternoon and returned to the United States. During their visit to the island they met with Bruno Rodríguez, Minister of Foreign Affairs, leaders of the Catholic Church and a group of dissidents.

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