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April 8th, 2009
09:56 AM ET

Castro: Cuban people want "normal relations"

Congresswoman Barbara Lee discusses the Congressional Black Caucuses' meeting with Fidel and Raul Castro.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee discusses the Congressional Black Caucuses' meeting with Fidel and Raul Castro.

Cuba’s former dictator, Fidel Castro, has met with U.S. Officials for the first time since he became ill in 2006. He met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in Havana. This meeting comes as the Obama administration is reportedly considering possibly ending a half-century of Cold War isolation.

Representative Barbara Lee is the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of the three members who met with Fidel and Raul Castro. She spoke with Kiran Chetry on CNN’s American Morning on Wednesday.

Kiran Chetry: This is a subject of intense interest because we have not seen Fidel Castro, the former Cuban dictator, in so long. When you met with him, how did he look?

Barbara Lee: He looked fine. Of course, he's been ill, but I can tell you one thing, he was very energetic, very clear thinking. He knew what we had been doing while we were in Cuba. He knew our mission. He recognized who we were. And he was very engaging. We discussed quite a few subjects. Of course, bottom line is we wanted to talk more about normal relations between our two countries and how he viewed diplomacy and discussions and dialogue as it relates to ending the embargo against Cuba. It was very interesting because he said, like President Raul Castro said the night before, that the Cuban people want normal relations, dialogue without preconditions. And we know here in our own country that 68 percent of the American people want normal relations with Cuba.

Chetry: It certainly is a contentious issue and there are passionate arguments on both sides. Can you explain for us why the Congressional Black Caucus decided to make this trip?

Lee: Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have visited Cuba on many occasions. I've visited Cuba since 1977. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus began visiting Cuba around maybe 1999. It's time to change our direction in our foreign policy. The president is doing a phenomenal job in the world, reshaping America's image and role in the world. So we want to make sure that we have the proper information to make recommendations to the president, our Secretary of State, and our Speaker with regard to U.S. policy toward Cuba. As members of Congress, we have a responsibility to help shape our foreign policy. And Cuba is 90 miles away. We’ve had a 50-year-old policy that did not work. So it's time to talk to Cuba.

Chetry: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented a litany of human rights violation by the Cuban government. They talk about torture, arbitrary arrests, intimidation of dissidents and even executions. By meeting with the Cuban leadership and pushing for normalization do you risk appearing to condone some of these human rights abuses?

Lee: Absolutely not. What we went down to Cuba to discuss was how we can help push the ball forward, what it would take to begin dialogue. And we heard over and over again that every issue that the United States feels is important, wants to discuss every issue that's been raised for the last 50 years would be on the table for discussion. Our purpose was to see if there were preconditions on the Cuban side. We heard that there were no preconditions. And, in fact, we wanted to find out if they were interested. We have to remember that every country in Latin America, 15 countries, have normal relations with Cuba. And most of the EU. We're the country which is isolated. The American people should have a right to travel to Cuba to determine their own perspective. So all we're saying is do we need to move forward to have constructive dialogue based on national sovereignty and mutual respect? And members of our delegation believe that's the case. We will communicate this to our president prior to the Summit of the Americas which will be held in Trinidad April 17.

Chetry: Senator Mel Martinez staunchly opposes normalizing relations under the Castro regime. Born in Cuba, he came to the U.S. when he was 15. This is the statement he issued to us: “Regardless of one’s position on Cuba policy one would expect that any U.S. official or member of Congress visiting Cuba would have the courage to meet with members of Cuba's struggling independent civil society and to raise concerns about the regime’s systematic violation of human rights with Cuban officials.” Why didn’t the delegation meet with any dissidents?

Lee: Members of the delegation have met with the dissident community on many occasions. I am one who's done that. The purpose of this trip was to talk primarily to Cuban officials to determine whether or not we needed to recommend to our president to maintain this 50-year policy or if in fact it made sense to recommend that the policy be changed. And we believe that American citizens deserve the right to travel to Cuba and also we'll be recommending that it's about time that we find some kind of avenue to begin to have this discussion and dialogue with the Cuban government so we can begin to normalize our relations and to end the embargo. The business community is very interested in this. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce understands that it's in our economic interest to do that.

Filed under: Cuba
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Judy

    What everyone doesn't understand is this. When you do something and it doesn't work try another approach. How does everyone know it won't work unless you try. Folks its time for change. Try something different. The GOP is stuck in a time warp, no matter what the President does they are trying to tear him down. We need to open our minds. The GOP is only looking out to get voted in again in 2010.
    They don't have your best interest at heart, understand that. See heres another point, what difference does it make that the Congressional Black Caucus made the trip to Cuba? So what because they are Black they shouldn't represent the US?? Diversity its the name of the game in the 21st Century.
    President Obama you make me proud to be an AMERICAN. Keep doing what you believe is right.

    April 10, 2009 at 7:28 am |
  2. Eileen

    Why did the CDC members go to Cuba? Maybe because they want to get more latinos on there side to vote Democratic. What a bunch of traitors. The CDC is nothing but a bunch of felons. Why do we even have a CDC anyway? Why are people who served prison time representatives of any Congress?

    April 9, 2009 at 11:36 pm |
  3. Tom

    Barbara Lee and her cohorts completely ignored the human rights abuses perpetuated by the Castro brothers. Lenin had a fitting term for the likes of the Dems that went to Cuba: Useful idiots.

    April 9, 2009 at 11:27 pm |
  4. Dee

    oh I forgot to mention China. Since they know 'own' us and provide eache and every thing for daily use so we don't have any option to travel and do business with them.

    April 9, 2009 at 9:19 pm |
  5. Dee

    So GOP is telling us that we should don't talk or do business with Cuba because of human rights voiation in that country. But we have been buying oil from Middle Eastern Asian countries and making them super rich from years. So marrying 8 years old and punishing a rape victim and 75 years old is not a voilation of human rights for GOP. Not to mention, our colony of Asia, called Pakistan, openely sign the deals with Taliban and we are giving them again 7 billion dollars. The bill passed with bipartisan support.

    April 9, 2009 at 9:14 pm |
  6. L. Hern

    I believe that the embargo should be lifted and they should also lift all travel restrictions. It's been 50 years and nothing has changed. Lifting the embargo will take the power away from the cuban goverment. I also believe that the black caucus has no idea of what they are talking about when it comes to cuba. To say all of these wonderful things about Fidel and Raul Castro is an insult to the Cuban people. They were alowed to see only what the Cuban Government wants them to see.

    April 9, 2009 at 8:39 pm |
  7. d passmore

    It is about time we are such hyprocrites, we try to foster good relations with israel and the Palestinians asking them (the Palestinians)to forgive Israel and look past the Holocaust of the recent on-sided war, yet we cannot forget our Cuban experience of 50 years ago. we are such bible eating church going self righteous hyprocrites IT ISN'T FUNNY. We are a very unforgiving set of people.

    April 9, 2009 at 8:39 pm |
  8. Claudette

    This embargo has been honored in the breach out of the port of Miami! Now is the time to allow all Cuban people, not just the wealthy, to get goods and establish normal relations with America. I heard the men in cafe's 10 years ago, talk of transporting goods out of the port and laughing about the embargo. 47 years is enough, time to try to heal wounds. I am sorry that those in power, will loose profit from bootlegging goods. Enough...

    April 9, 2009 at 8:21 pm |
  9. Tran

    Cuba & US had a conflict in the past but Cuba did not support Khmer Rouge, Sudan regime, or Al-Qaeda. Lets take this opportunity to build a better relationship between the two countries before the Russian comes back or China comes in.

    April 9, 2009 at 5:36 pm |
  10. Chris Davis

    To Scott, in answer to your question, it's called the black caucus b/c it was established not too long ago....we're only 40 years away from jim crow laws, and the assasination of MLK, JFK, and RFK.....why do youu think we hear all the complaints now about Pres. Obama......45-55% of America was not ready for a black President.....then he was liberal too? It's not well recieved among the confederate states especially......

    April 9, 2009 at 4:45 pm |
  11. Chris Davis

    I was born in 1979, we hadn't talked to Cuba since JFK.......we really need too come up off the bull......America is a leader, and needs to engage to at least realize if we wnat the relationship or other bit of info..... these talks of engagement began in the Senate under Dick Luger....I believe....but if the name is wrong, the party affiliation isn't......a republican began these dicussions in congress......

    April 9, 2009 at 3:36 pm |
  12. CUBANO

    i think we should put embargo to china.... not ,i'm just kidding ! we need china ,they are comunist and they violate human rights but need them to keep this country running ,this is Crazy!!! check this out ,we have a great relation with Mexico but CAN NOT control the drugs coming from there killing american,we CAN NOT control illegal imigrants coming to this country to take advantange of our system and we keep with this embargo that started 50 years ago to a country that is NUMBER ONE in education,health,life expectancy,lowest infant mortality,lowest AIDS ratio in latin America ,is that make sense to you???? .Cuba it's a Great Country with wonderful people with a great sense of hospitality ,you need to go there to understand what i'm talking about,hopefully before april 17 Mr Obama will anounce a new law that will let visit my country..GOD BLESS YOU ALL.

    April 8, 2009 at 5:26 pm |
  13. Tom Rapp

    For 50 years we have had this embargo in the hopes that the Castro regime would fall and it has not. We should resume normal relations with Cuba, including lifting the embargo which only hurts the people.

    April 8, 2009 at 5:18 pm |
  14. patty

    It's time we stopped listening to a handful of Cuban-Americans who are still ticked off that Cuba has survived (albeit at subsistence level) in a Communist dictatorship.

    Cuba needs us and we need them.....think of the possibilities!!

    April 8, 2009 at 5:04 pm |
  15. Josef

    It's called the Congressional Black Caucus because it is a group of black congress people who caucus together in order to provide a louder voice on issues they agree with than any single congress person. When Dems/Repubs speakers speak out, they represent their large constituencies. Extreme minority viewpoints (black congressmen/women) would be easy to ignore if that viewpoint was not presented in a caucused way as well. As we are all aware, there remains a significant difference in the ways that blacks and whites as groups (i.e. statistically) specifically view certain issues. Since black congress people are a much smaller percentage than blacks in the U.S. as a whole, their caucused viewpoints can serve as possibly reflecting more opinon than their small numbers would suggest. It does not guarantee anything, but since there is a difference, it is important to hear their voices. I think there is a need for a female caucus as well, since they are also significantly underrepresented, but their views on many issues may or may not be significantly different than males. It lets us know what people who are underrepresented feel about an issue. As a democracy, including everyones opinion is important, and caucusing certainly helps towards that goal.

    April 8, 2009 at 5:02 pm |
  16. Rickymo

    Cuba and China are very similar in that they are both accused of many human rights violations and yet we talk (and buy) from China. The Cuban lobby in So. Florida has keep the issue of the embargo politically alive in the hopes they can get their (or what they think is theirs) land back. If we changed our position on the embargo Cuba would be a very different place than it still is today. The Cuban Americans have hurt Cuba, not the US. Pity.

    April 8, 2009 at 4:36 pm |
  17. Daarina Bey

    Its about time, there’s so many people in America who have family members in Cuba. Cuba has very good education system. Why can’t my child have the opportunity to study abroad there? It’s 2009 and time for change.

    April 8, 2009 at 4:27 pm |
  18. Scott

    Why is this team called the Black Caucus? As an American this not only sounds racist but makes the statement to the world that we are not equal in America.

    April 8, 2009 at 4:21 pm |
  19. Fafhrd

    Human Rights? Is that all that's stopping us? The Bush administration's hands are none to clean, and the Obama administration has refused to renounce the same authoritarian practices.

    Hard to complain about other countries' practices since Afghanistan and Iraq.

    April 8, 2009 at 4:21 pm |
  20. Pel

    It is about time we rekindle a friendly relationship with Cuba.

    Most people here from Cuba do not know about the Bay of Pigs invasion in detail and those few who do mostly carry a bias. because they or their family were part of the upper caste system that was in place. They controlled the wealth of the country

    The leader in Cuba at the time of the invasion was Mr Batista. He was robbing the masses of their wealth and he and his small set of friends were sharing this wealth. Castro won the war against Batista and stopped this. This also destroyed the caste system. The wealthy could no longer take advantage of the poor.

    April 8, 2009 at 4:15 pm |
  21. GEORGE

    Russia has recently been sending naval vessels and aircraft to Venezuela and Cuba and has hoped to re-establish military presence in that region. Further, I believe Russia is building a refinery in Venezuela to refine the heavy crude oil there.

    One can't help but imagine the problems that would be created if we do not do something to work with a country 90 miles from our shores. All the worry about North Korea firing a long range ballistic missile at us would be minor compared to the potential threat of a missile coming from 90 miles away. President Kennedy realized that back in the early 60's and stood up the the threat.

    The complaints about normalized relations come from Cuban born Americans or children of Cubans. While I understand there bitterness, we really need to look at the big picture.

    Human rights violations? Of course we know those are taking place. But they are also taking place in China and other countries. But we still trade with them, travel to their countries and, yes, watch the Olympics being held there.

    Fifty years of embargo and we still are where we were back in the 60's. Time for the MAJORITY of Americans to push the President to change all that. 68% of us say enough is enough. Now all we need is for the elected officials to agree with the majority.

    April 8, 2009 at 3:59 pm |
  22. ProudtobeCuban

    I'm Cuban and when i came to USA in 1995 ,i was asking to myself why this embargo to cuba? when you have china(comunist) like Cuba and USA have great relation with them ,as we all know China is number 0ne ( 1 ) violating human rights in the world but the different is that USA uses china for to take american job overseas and you have all those CEO getting millions of dollars in bonuses and here in USA 8.5% american people with no jobs and then you have the Russian killing people in Georgia and we want to be their friend to fight IRAN and North korea ,this is Crazy ,confuse and dirty and i think the best thing Mr Obama will do is to make normal relation with my country ,in Cuba citizen loves American people and when you go there you'll find out that what see in the island is way diferent from what heard on the news... "Mr Obama go for the change you promised"

    April 8, 2009 at 3:36 pm |
  23. Will

    Canadians can travel to Cuba and I returned from a trip there last week. It is one of the oddest places I can imagine. There are signs everywhere praising the revolution and communism, but no other advertising. Everywhere you go, it’s clear there has not been any maintenance on the buildings in 50 years, most look like they’re going to fall over. There are classic cars everywhere, because no one can afford or is allowed to buy a new one. There was an English language Chinese government TV channel in the hotel. It was very professional and believable, until they started to praise all the advances in Tibet since its “democratization” by China (by which I suppose they meant annexation).

    April 8, 2009 at 3:27 pm |
  24. Ruben

    Until you live in Cuba or have lived in Cuba, you have no idea what life in Cuba has been since Fidel Castro took over. If you think it's like inner city America, imagine having to go to a "camp" when you are in middle school into the fields and farm all day everyday for one year or if you are a boy, when you turn 16 you have to serve 2 years in the choice. Is that like inner city America? Knowledge....we all need knowledge!

    April 8, 2009 at 2:49 pm |
  25. stormerF

    Black Caucuses, goes to a dictatorship and wants to do business? Castro should have locked them up,because it was against the law for them to travel there in the first place....Why are they allowed to break the Law? When I can not?

    April 8, 2009 at 2:48 pm |
  26. nadja myronenko

    I agree with IDALMIS–we are also "friends" with Russia, even though they are not a true democracy. Embargoes only punish the people. Why not allow travel to Cuba...I am certain a lot of Cubans would love to visit their country and relatives and vice-versa. Castro certainly would lose a lot of clout in his anti-American propaganda!

    April 8, 2009 at 2:43 pm |
  27. Ginny

    The Black caucas sees no problem with the way Cuba has been run over the past 40 years because most of Cuba looks like alot of American inner cities.

    April 8, 2009 at 2:09 pm |

    we have relationship with Viet-Nam and China that have human right violation why not Cuba, Mel Martinez is putting out the ideas of the Cuban that came to United States in the 1960's and have no intention of going back they living the ilustion of what it would have been is Castro regime would have ended in the 1960's

    April 8, 2009 at 2:08 pm |
  29. Garrett S.

    Finally, we do something we should have awhile ago. Have open relationship with Cuba and do some trading, traveling etc between the two nations. We should also try to be more open with North Korea and help them out as well(I know we don't like them, but I think we can change them for the better too) I hope this gets through, cause I never really saw anything wrong with Cuba, they just need to be guided if anything, into the rigbht direction. Doing things like this will only help improve the goal for world peace.

    April 8, 2009 at 1:52 pm |