by Dawn Gable
HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 8 — Last weekend retiring Senator Christopher Dodd made his last official trip to Cuba where he met with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and the President of National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon. He also traveled to the far western province of Pinar del Rio to observe hurricane reconstruction efforts, and attended a reception for US jazz musician Wynton Marsalis who was performing in Havana.
In a press conference upon return, the Senator stated that the main purpose for the trip was to get a sense of how recently announced economic changes in the country will affect its economy and gauge “any opportunity here for us to try to improve bilateral relations.”
In his view these changes, which include reducing the number of workers employed by the State and licensing more small businesses and cooperatives, are “deeper and more lasting than the ones that occurred in the early 1990s” and will fundamentally change “the way the Cuban people support themselves and make a living.”
Sen. Dodd sees this as an opportunity for the US to reassess its policies on travel and the embargo, thereby accelerating “the changes we’ve all sought in Cuba.”
While the Senator is “hopeful that the Administration will take additional steps regarding our policy”, he clarified that with the US involved in two wars and its economy in trouble “it was rather unrealistic” to assume that Cuba would be a priority for the Administration. In fact, he went on to say that while much of the world expected the Obama Administration to make fundamental changes in policy regarding Cuba, he “never thought that would be the case.”
His prediction on pending legislation that would restore US citizen’s right to travel to Cuba was not any more optimistic, “I’m not terribly optimistic you’re going to get something passed but I think it’s worth a try.” After US Congressional elections on November 2, only a few weeks will be left for a bill to pass both chambers of Congress. With the expected Republican gains in the Senate, it is unlikely such legislation will be adopted in the 2011-2012 session.
Nonetheless, the former presidential candidate, who has been “watching” Cuba from Capitol Hill for 36 years, believes “that we’re fairly close” to fundamental changes.” He assured that he would be meeting with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela to discuss his findings and announced that a committee report by staff that accompanied him on the trip is forthcoming.