Members of the American Congressional
Black Caucus have taken part in the first meeting of U.S. officials with former
President Fidel Castro since he became ill in 2006. The caucus chairwoman says
Cuba wants normal diplomatic relations with the United States and, with a new
U.S. administration, it is time to look for a change in American policy toward
Congresswoman Barbara Lee - one of three lawmakers of a larger U.S. delegation
who met with the elder Castro - told reporters in Washington Tuesday that, in
the nearly two-hour meeting, she has found the 82-year-old Fidel Castro
"healthy, energetic and clear-thinking."
"He has always been engaging,
very specific, very clear, very talkative, very energetic, has a lot of bold
ideas, but has always said that the Cuban people were friends of the American
people and wanted to see normal relations take place. That has been consistent
over the years that I have been in meetings with him," Lee said. "His health,
course, he's been ill, but I think we will agree that he was very healthy, very
energetic and very clear-thinking, and he was very engaging and his wife was
very congenial, hospitable. And, as Congressman [Bobby] Rush said, they live in
very modest means and it was quite a moment to behold."
Another member of
the delegation, California Congresswoman Laura Richardson, said Mr. Castro knew
her name and was well aware of what was going on.
"But, what really was
amazing to me was he leaned in, he looked directly into our eyes, quite aware of
what was happening and said to us, 'How can we help? How can we help President
Obama?" said Richardson.
The meeting came a day after the larger,
seven-member congressional delegation held several hours of talks with Fidel
Castro's younger brother, 77-year old Raul, who became president last year, in
the wake of his older brother's illness. Congresswoman Lee says the lawmakers
did not go to Cuba to negotiate with the rulers of the communist-run government,
but observe what is taking place, talk with people and offer recommendations to
the Obama Administration.
"We're convinced that the Cuban government, and
President Raul Castro said this also, that everything is on the table,
discussion, dialogue, no precondition.," said Lee.
President Raul Castro, Lee said 'We'll talk about all the issues that need to be
addressed as long as there's mutual respect and a recognition of the sovereignty
of both countries.' And, I think that if we would move in that direction, based
on those principles, we'd see some great things happen."
Lee says the message to the delegation is very clear.
communicating their willingness and their desire to sit down and have dialogue
and discussions leading, hopefully, to normal diplomatic relations," added
Congresswoman Lee says the delegation's conclusion is that, given
the new direction of American foreign policy under the Obama Administration, it
is time to move in a different direction.
She says the nearly 50-year
embargo of the island has not worked. She says American citizens should have
the right to travel to Cuba and that American business believes it is in
America's economic interest to do business with Cuba.
Ms. Lee has
co-sponsored a bill to lift a travel ban on American visits to Cuba. There is
similar legislation pending in the Senate.
The Obama Administration has
signaled the president will move soon to ease some travel restrictions against
Cuba, perhaps ahead of next week's Summit of the America's in Trinidad and
Tobago. President Obama has said he would be willing to speak with Cuba's
leaders, but would maintain the embargo as leverage to push for democratic
change and an improvement in human rights.