By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES, April 7 – Cuban President Raul Castro and representatives of the US Congressional Black Caucus met on Monday to talk about a possible evolution of bilateral relations under the Obama administration.
Castro reiterated the island’s will to dialogue with the United States based on respect for national sovereignty and independence, something that was impossible under the hostile Bush administration.
While the delegation of seven House Reps. led by Barbara Lee (D-CA) has said it is not on a mission for President Obama, it is widely believed that the Black Caucus will have a greater ear with the new administration than under any of its predecessors.
The legislators and the Cuban president also discussed economic ties, currently stymied by the nearly half century US blockade on the Caribbean island.
Numerous US agricultural, tourism and oil companies have come out for normalizing trade between the two neighbors, something fervently opposed by the Miami exile lobby which wields considerable influence with its hefty campaign donations to both the Republican and Democratic parties.
Mixed signals continue to come out of Washington regarding Cuba policy. On the one hand key administration officials note that the policy remains under study. However, they also insist that change must come first from Cuba in order to consider lifting the blockade, a position similar to the past ten administrations.
While Cuban Americans may soon get the unique privilege from Obama to travel freely to Cuba, bills on Capitol Hill would also go much further and restore travel rights to the rest of US citizens.
Fidel Castro Comments on Congressional Visit
In a column published in the local Cuban press on late Monday, former President Fidel Castro commented on the presence of the Black Caucus delegation in Havana.
Castro noted that the first Black Caucus delegation to visit Cuba came in February 1999 headed by Rep. Maxine Waters. He also noted their support “during the battle for the return of the child Elian Gonzalez to his homeland in 2000.”
It was during a Black Caucus visit in May 2000 that Fidel explained Cuba’s offer to grant scholarships to study medicine to under-privileged US young people. “We made a similar offer to the Pastors for Peace organization, which is presided over by Rev. Lucius Walker, who sent the first US students to the Latin American Medical School,” said Fidel Castro.
The US legislators also got a look at Cuba’s biotech development visiting the Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Center. The field is one of many where US and Cuban scientists and academics would have a lot to exchange, especially if the travel ban is voted away by the US Congress. If a bill like HR 874 passes, most believe Obama would sign it.