On February 17, during a press conference at Havana’s Hotel Nacional, a delegation of U.S. legislators visiting Cuba expressed optimism in regards to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and progress toward normalization.
Democratic Senators Claire McCaskill, Missouri; Mark Warner, Virginia; and Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota, arrived in Cuba February 14, and had the opportunity to interact with different sectors of Cuban society and authorities, to discuss the prospects which emerged this past December 17, when the two countries’ Presidents announced their intention to launch a new chapter in the history of conflict between Cuba and the United States.
During the press conference, McCaskill commented that there are no problems which could not be addressed, and expressed optimism in regards to the talks underway.
The Missouri Senator reported that the delegation had visited the Port of Mariel and the adjacent Special Development Zone, emphasizing the possibilities opening up for U.S. imports to Cuba.
Warner, from Virginia, addressed the potential for trade between the two countries, and recalled that his state was among the first to begin sales of agricultural products to Cuba, in 2002 when blockade regulations were amended to allow this.
He emphasized that severe restrictions on such trade remain in place, including the requirement that Cuba pay in cash, in advance, but expressed the opinion that these and other obstacles could be overcome.
Klobuchar, who recently introduced a bill in the Senate to allow U.S. companies to do business with Cuba, expressed confidence that the visit would help to broaden the prevailing view of Cuba in Washington.
The Senators will have the opportunity to share this first-hand experience with their peers in Congress, she said, which should strengthen the bipartisan effort to eliminate blockade restrictions on trade and maritime transport, among others.
Klobuchar commented that changes will not be immediate, but emphasized the need to hold a discussion involving both major U.S. parties.
McCaskill reiterated that U.S. policy change toward Cuba is not an issue of exclusive interest to Democrats, explaining that, in Missouri, many Republican farmers are interested in selling their crops to Cuba, a reality which could lead to other legislative initiatives.
Asked if the bill which is being introduced included the elimination of the blockade’s extraterritorial stipulations, the Senators reported that its objective was eliminating the “embargo,” but provided few details.
Warner added that there are other important issues also being reviewed, including the inclusion of Cuba on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of international terrorism, which implies restrictions on financial transactions, among others.
Granma asked the U.S. Senators if they felt as if they were visiting a terrorist country, to which they responded, “No.”