Thu, Apr 09, 2009 - Page 7 News List

US representatives meet with Fidel Castro

AP , WASHINGTON

Member of the US House of Representatives Barbara Lee, center, talks during a press conference in Havana, Cuba, on Tuesday, along with members Laura Richardson, left, Emmanuel Cleaver, center rear, and Bobby Rush.

PHOTO: EPA

As US President Barack Obama’s 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 US-Cuban relations.

Democratic Representative Laura Richardson of California, who was one of three lawmakers to meet former Cuban president 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,” she said.

Richardson was joined by Democratic Representatives Barbara Lee of California — head of the 42-member Congressional Black Caucus — and Bobby Rush of Illinois, 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 Cuban President Raul Castro, who replaced his ailing older brother as Cuba’s president 14 months ago.

It was Raul Castro’s first encounter with US officials since formally replacing his brother as head of state.

Lee said Raul “said everything was on the table” in reopening the dialogue with the US 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 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.

Both 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 from April 17 to April 19, said on Monday he “would not be surprised” if the president announces more changes in US policies before that meeting.

The three House lawmakers were the first US 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 US election and Obama’s promises to forge a more open and multilateral foreign policy.

Fidel 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.”

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