Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Congressional Black Caucus Sends Delegation to Revolutionary Cuba

Reflections of Fidel

The seven Congress members who are visiting us

AN important US political delegation is visiting us right now. Its members belong to the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) which, in practice, has functioned as the most progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

The Congressional Black Caucus was founded in January 1969 by the 12 African-American legislators who were members of the U.S. Congress at that moment. During the first 50 years of the 20th century only four African Americans were elected to Congress.

Presently, as a result of the struggles they have waged, the CBC has 42 members. Several of its representatives have maintained very active and constructive positions on Cuba-related topics.

The first Caucus delegation visited us in February 1999 and was headed by Maxine Waters; the second came in January 2000.

Influential members of that Congressional group publicly expressed their positions and carried out other positive actions during the battle for the return of young Elián to his homeland.

In May 2000, another Caucus delegation visited us. It was presided over by the then Caucus President James Clyburn, from North Carolina, and was made up of Bennie Thompson from Mississippi and Gregory Meeks from New York. These congressmen were the first to learn from me of Cuba’s disposition to grant a number of scholarships to low-income youths, to be selected by the Congressional Black Caucus, so that they could come to Cuba and study medicine. We made a similar offer to the "Pastors for Peace" NGO, which is presided over by Reverend Lucius Walker, who sent the first students to the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).

When the anti-Cuban pressures and activities of the Bush administration were intensified with respect to travel and the presence in Cuba of persons under U.S. jurisdiction, Black Caucus legislators addressed Secretary of State Colin Powell and managed to secure a license that legally allowed American youths to continue their medical studies – which they had already begun – in Cuba.

Powell, a military chief of great authority and prestige, could possibly have become the first black president of the United States, but he turned down the nomination out of respect for his family who, on account of the assassination of Martin Luther King, strongly opposed his nomination.

The Black Caucus delegation visiting Cuba this time is headed by Barbara Lee, the representative of the state of California. She first traveled to Cuba accompanying the then black Congressman Ronald Dellums. She was his assistant and afterwards occupied his seat when he retired. On that occasion I had the honor of meeting her and admiring her combative spirit and capacity for struggle.

The group she is presiding over right now is made up by seven members of Congress. The other members of the delegation are: Melvin Luther Watt, from North Carolina; Michael Makoto Honda, from California; Laura Richardson, also from California; Bobby Rush, from Illinois; Marcia L. Fudge, from Ohio; and Emanuel Cleaver II, from Missouri.

Patrice Willoughby, executive assistant of the Congressional Black Caucus, plus four military personnel from the Congressional Liaison Office under the orders of Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Wolf, are accompanying the delegation.

I value the gesture of this legislative group. They have been strictly adhering to the program they requested. The aura of Luther King is accompanying them. Our press has given broad coverage of their visit. They are exceptional witnesses to the respect that U.S. citizens visiting our homeland always receive. It is unlikely that they have seen any face displaying a look of hatred, and perhaps they admire the total absence of illiterate people or children shining shoes on the streets. The swarms of children, teenagers and youths attending schools and universities; the day-care centers, senior citizens homes, hospitals and polyclinics run by highly skilled medical staff offering assistance to all citizens will not be lost to a critical eye. In the midst of this international economic crisis there are no citizens queuing in search of jobs. People walking through the streets, active and almost always happy, do not conform to the stereotyped images of Cuba that are often shown abroad.

Our homeland demonstrates that a small Third World country, which has been besieged, attacked and blockaded for decades, can bear its poverty with dignity. Many citizens in the world’s richest nation do not receive the same kind of treatment and a considerable number of them do not even vote. However, that right is exercised by more than 90% of our population, who know how to read and write and who have acquired a significant level of culture and political knowledge.

Within the delegation, there are opinions which are shared by all; others are personal points of view. Generally speaking, its members believe that 68% of the U.S. population favors a change of policy toward Cuba.

One of them expressed the need to take advantage of this historical moment, when the presence of an African-American president in the White House coincides with a current of opinion that favors the normalization of relations.

When Alarcón commented that removing Cuba from the list of terrorist states –on which it is arbitrarily included – was a moral duty, he was reminded that both Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress were labeled as terrorists by the U.S. Congress.

Another member of the delegation thanked the Cuban authorities and the presidency of the Black Caucus for organizing the trip and maintaining this kind of exchange.

Another representative explained Obama’s tremendous significance for the United States and the need for him to be reelected. He said that the president sees himself as a political leader who should govern all social sectors of the country. Nevertheless, he said he was sure that Obama would change Cuba policy, but that Cuba should also help him.

A fourth member of the Caucus said that despite Obama’s electoral victory, U.S. society is still racist. He added that Obama represents the only opportunity that nation has to move forward and leave behind all the wrongdoings accumulated by former governments. He said that the president cannot go beyond lifting travel restrictions and allowing remittances by Cuban-Americans, because announcing an end to the blockade or the full normalization of bilateral relations would mean that he would never be reelected. He also confirmed that the anti-Cuban right wing still has enough power to attack him and prevent his reelection.

Finally, speaking frankly during a visit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, another legislator stated that the United States should not waste the opportunity of acknowledging that its Cuba policy has been a total failure. He added that his government should apologize to Cuba for all these years of hostility and for the blockade, because only then will we be in a position to move on together towards resolving the bilateral dispute. He affirmed that he would do whatever is possible to eliminate the blockade.

During a visit to the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center, one CBC member, expressing the sentiments of the others, described Cuba’s results in the field of biotechnology as "excellent," and said that, at this moment in time, the political atmosphere was favorable for building bridges of understanding and communication between the scientific communities of our respective countries. He recommended that we should be careful to patent everything, in line with international copyright standards, to prevent us being robbed of the efforts that led to such wonderful work.

All of them expressed how greatly impressed they were during the visit to the center, where the minister of science, technology and the environment, together with the directors of several scientific institutions, explained to them the work being undertaken by our country in that field.

The main activity on April 4, the day that marked the 41st anniversary of the death of the human rights martyr, was a visit to the park in the Cuban capital named after Martin Luther King, where there is a black-veined dark green marble monolith bearing the bronze embossed image of the great black combatant who was assassinated by racists. Barbara Lee, Laura Richardson, Emanuel Cleaver II and Bobby Rush spoke at the event. The four of them publicly emphasized the positive impact of the meetings they had had.

Yesterday Sunday, at 13:20, Congresswoman Barbara Lee arrived at the Ebenezer Church of the Martin Luther King Center’s Ebenezer Church, where she was welcomed by Raúl Suárez and other leaders of the Cuban National Council of Churches. Also present were Alarcón and other officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Prior to that, Barbara visited two other churches in Vedado. She addressed the congregations, reiterating certain previous public statements and stating her intention to take certain steps with the administration in order to promote a change in Cuba policy and the reactivation of exchanges between the churches of both countries.

I have summarized the exchanges that have taken place. I have been careful not to disclose the names of those who have made certain statements, because I do not know whether they are interested in making them public.

I simply wished to offer the necessary details so that our population may have as much information as possible on the sensitive subject of relations between Cuba and the United States under Obama’s presidency and the visit of the Black Caucus delegation to Cuba.

Fidel Castro Ruz
April 6, 2009
2:03 p.m.

Raúl meets with members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus

ON the afternoon of Monday April 6, President Raúl Castro Ruz met with members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus, who began a visit to Cuba last Friday.

Attending the meeting were Democratic federal representatives Babara Lee, from the state of California and president of the Black Caucus; Melvin Luther Watt (California); Bobby Rush (Illinois), Marcia L. Fudge (Ohio), Emanuel Cleaver II (Missouri) and Laura Richardson (California); also participating were Patrice Willoughby, executive assistant to the Black Caucus, and Eulada Watt, wife of Congressman Melvin Luther Watt.

In a lengthy discussion, they tackled diverse issues with an emphasis on the possible future development of bilateral relations and economic links, following the recent election of a new U.S. administration.

In that respect, Raúl confirmed Cuba’s position, which has been clearly established in various public speeches and is in line with the principles maintained by our country for the past 50 years: a disposition to discuss any issue whatsoever, the only premise being the sovereign equality of states and absolute respect for national independence and the unalienable right of every nation to self-determination.

Also present at the meeting were Political Bureau members Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, president of the National Assembly of People’s Power, and Pedro Sáez Montejo, first secretary of the Provincial Committee of the Party in Havana; Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla; Dagoberto Rodríguez Barrera, deputy foreign minister; and Jorge Bolaños Suárez, head of the Cuban Interests Section in the United States.

Translated by Granma International

Lawmakers meet Castros, urge end to embargo


WASHINGTON (AP) — As the Obama administration considers a shift in the half-century policy of isolating Cuba, members of the Congressional Black Caucus returned from Havana saying the Castro brothers are eager to see a new day in U.S.-Cuban relations.

Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., one of three lawmakers to meet Fidel Castro on Tuesday, said she got the sense that "he really wants President Obama to succeed" in his foreign policy goals. "He sincerely wants an opportunity, I think, in his lifetime to see a change in America."

Richardson was joined by Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., head of the 42-member Congressional Black Caucus, and Bobby Rush, D-Ill., in meeting the 82-year-old Fidel Castro for nearly two hours in his home before the delegation returned to Washington.

On Monday evening, six members of the group talked for four hours with Raul Castro, who replaced his ailing brother as Cuba's president 14 months ago. It was Raul Castro's first encounter with U.S. officials since formally replacing his brother as head of state.

Raul, according to Lee, "said everything was on the table" in reopening the dialogue with the United States that was effectively shut off after Fidel Castro gained control of the island in 1959 and imposed communist rule.

The visit by the Congressional Black Caucus, which has long championed an end to the trade and travel embargoes imposed on Cuba, coincided with increased movement both in Congress and by President Barack Obama to ease some of the restrictions on economic and social contacts with Cuba.

Obama has already taken steps to remove limits on how often Cuban-Americans can visit relatives on the island and how much money they can send to family members, and lawmakers in both the House and the Senate recently introduced legislation to end the ban on almost all travel by Americans to Cuba. Democrats and Republicans from farm states are pushing for an end to restrictions that have hampered sales of farm products to Cuba.

Jeffrey Davidow, the White House adviser for the Summit of the Americas to be held in Trinidad and Tobago April 17-19, said Monday he "would not be surprised" if the president announces more changes in U.S. policies before that meeting.

"For the past 50 years, the United States has been swimming in the Caribbean Sea of delusion" by believing that embargoes could bring about the downfall of Castro, said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., at a news conference after the group returned to Washington. After half a century, he said, "we are the only nation that is isolated."

But there's little suggestion that the administration is ready to commit to ending the trade embargo and there's still fierce opposition in Congress, led by Cuban-American lawmakers, to even incremental easing of restrictions while the Castros remain in power.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the son of Cuban immigrants and head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has promised to fight any loosening of restrictions.

"Our great nation should always stand for human freedom and democracy and against underwriting regimes that oppress, suppress and murder," he said last week after fellow senators introduced legislation that would end the travel ban.

The three House lawmakers were the first U.S. officials to sit down with Fidel Castro since he had emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006.

Lee said that he was "very healthy, very energetic, very clear-thinking," and that he had followed closely the U.S. election and Obama's promises to forge a more open and multilateral foreign policy.

Castro "looked directly into our eyes" and asked, "How can we help President Obama?" Richardson said.

Rush, the third participant in the meeting with Fidel Castro, said his impression was that Cubans "want to have the kind of relationship they had prior to the blockade. They deserve that."

'Healthy and energetic' Fidel Castro holds talks with US politicians

Former Cuban president asks Congress members what he can do to help Barack Obama improve relations between Cuba and Washington

Associated Press, Wednesday 8 April 2009 09.50 BST

The former Cuban president Fidel Castro yesterday met members of the US Congress in an attempt to improve relations between Cuba and Washington.

Castro – who was described as "very healthy" and "very energetic" – asked what he could do to help the US president, Barack Obama, improve bilateral relations.

Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, said Castro talked with her and two other members of the congressional black caucus for nearly two hours yesterday.

The meeting has been seen as a sign that Cuba is willing to discuss better relations between it and the US.

"We believe it is time to open dialogue and discussion with Cuba," Lee told a news conference in Washington. "Cubans do want dialogue. They do want talks. They do want normal relations."

Lee said the group would present its findings to the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, as well as White House and state department officials.

The California Democrat Laura Richardson said Castro "looked directly into our eyes" and asked how Cuba could help Obama in his efforts to change the course of US foreign policy.

Richardson said she had the impression that the 82-year-old wanted to see improvements in his lifetime, adding that he was "very healthy, very energetic, very clear thinking".

The talks came a day after the full delegation of six representatives spent more than four hours in talks with the Cuban president, Raúl Castro, in his first encounter with US officials since he formally replaced his brother nearly 14 months ago.

Obama has ordered an assessment of US policy toward the communist nation, and some members of Congress are pushing to lift a ban on Americans visiting the island.

Fidel Castro has not been seen in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006.

Although he gave up his presidential duties after becoming ill, he remains an influential force.

In a column posted on a government website last night, Castro wrote about his meeting with the US representatives, saying Cuban leaders "weren't aggressors, nor did we threaten the United States".

"Cuba did not have any alternative but to take the initiative," he said.

He applauded the delegation for "the interest and depth with which they expounded on their points of view and the quality of their simple and profound words".

Jeffrey Davidow, the White House adviser for this month's Summit of the Americas, which Obama will attend, said the US president had no plans to lift the 47-year-old trade embargo against Cuba but would soon ease travel and financial restrictions.

Bills in both houses of the US Congress would effectively bar any president from prohibiting Americans from travelling to Cuba except in extreme cases such as war.

Lee predicted that the measures would be approved, but said they would not spell the end of the embargo.

"This would be a wonderful step, allowing American citizens the right to travel to Cuba, but much would follow after that," she added.

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