Wed, Apr 08, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Raul Castro meets with US lawmakers in Havana

CALL FOR UNITY: Before Raul Castro welcomed the US lawmakers, his brother had urged Latin American countries to speak out and oppose the US embargo

AFP , HAVANA

Cuban President Raul Castro, right, meets with US Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, in Havana on Monday.

PHOTO: AP

Cuban President Raul Castro has welcomed US lawmakers in his first meeting with US officials since he took Cuba’s helm last year, state media reported, ahead of potential dialogue with the US.

Castro, 77, welcomed the Americans — seven Democrats from the US Congressional black caucus — on Monday in the name of his ailing elder brother, former president Fidel Castro, 82, a US nemesis for five decades.

The US group had met on Friday with National Assembly Speaker Ricardo Alarcon, as delegation leader Representative Barbara Lee said the talks pointed to a change in the tone of relations between foes Havana and Washington.

Fidel Castro had met Lee on her prior trips to Cuba, but “I had not had the honor” to meet her, Raul Castro said of Lee, according to Cuban television.

The landmark outreach came after Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro has said the communist nation welcomes dialogue with the US and did not want five decades of confrontation with its powerful neighbor to drag on.

Fidel Castro’s comments came as the US lawmakers visited Cuba to try to end mutual distrust and amid reports that US President Barack Obama was planning to ease economic sanctions, including travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans.

“We’re not afraid to talk with the United States. We also don’t need confrontation to exist, like some fools like to think,” Fidel Castro said in an article on the Cubadebate Web site on Sunday.

In a separate article, Fidel Castro called on Latin American nations to support an end to his country’s isolation at a regional summit this month that will include Obama.

Fidel Castro said the Summit of the Americas would be a “trial by fire” as regional nations discuss the Cuba-US confrontation.

The leader of Cuba’s 1959 revolution said a draft of the text set to be discussed by leaders from Latin America, the Caribbean and North America was “unacceptable” and would result in the continued isolation of Cuba, the only one-party communist country in the Americas.

Cuba was not invited to the summit from next Friday to Sunday in Trinidad and Tobago, as the US long has sought to exclude it from regional meetings.

Fidel Castro’s call won almost instantaneous backing from fellow leftist leader, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

“We cannot accept that the United States continues harassing Cuba. This is still a question of honor,” Chavez told a state television. “We should ask ourselves: If we are all friends of Cuba, why does this country not exist? But we are not going to keep our mouths closed ... in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Fidel Castro had earlier called for Latin American countries to show their opposition to the US embargo on Cuba.

While campaigning for the presidency last year, Obama said he was open to new dialogue with Washington’s adversaries, including Cuba, and as president he has moved to lift some restrictions on US citizens traveling to Cuba and to ease cash transfers to the nation.

Lee said the group was hopeful US-Cuban relations would change for the better under President Obama.

“That’s why we’re here,” Lee said.

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