HAVANA – Democratic members of the US Congress said on Wednesday that the Trump administration’s decision to reverse the thawing of relations with Cuba was a mistake.
Since taking office, Trump has tightened the US embargo against Cuba and withdrawn most staff from the American embassy in Havana in reaction to alleged “health attacks.”
“The embargo makes no sense and the reversal of the policies that Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro negotiated doesn’t help the United States or Cuba,” Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy said during a press conference Wednesday at the US Embassy.
The US delegation, also comprising Sens. Ron Wyden, Gary Peters and Reps. Jim McGovern, Susan Davis and Kathy Castor, arrived in the island last weekend.
The purpose of their visit was to evaluate the impact of Trump’s new policies toward Cuba as well as to follow-up on the investigation into the mysterious illnesses afflicting US diplomats stationed in Havana.
Though a joint investigation – including the participation of the FBI on the ground in Havana – found no evidence the illnesses resulted from any hostile acts, the US pulled out most of its embassy personnel in October and expelled 17 Cuban diplomats from Washington.
The Trump administration also imposed new limits on travel to Cuba and warned potential visitors to the island of health risks.
“I have the impression the Cubans have offered whatever cooperation we want, in discovering what if anything happened,” Leahy said. “I don’t see that they have any advantage to doing something to harm our personnel, the certain result of it is to harm relations between both countries.”
McGovern said that Cuban citizens were suffering from the staff cutbacks at the US Embassy.
“Making it virtually impossible for the average Cuban to go the United States, whether it’s for a funeral, wedding, or to be able to be with their families, betrays our values. It’s not the way we should be approaching this. And that’s why we all want our staffing issues addressed here,” he said.
The Massachusetts lawmaker went on to describe US policy toward Cuba as “guided by paranoia and suspicion” and said that it was a mistake for Washington to turn away as Cuban President Raul Castro prepares to step down in favor of a successor to be chosen in April.
“Cuba is changing,” McGovern said. “Regrettably at this historic moment in Cuban history, US engagement is limited.”
The US delegation met Tuesday with Raul Castro to discuss Cuba’s coming political transition.
Leahy said that the 86-year-old president agreed with the US lawmakers regarding the need for the next Cuban administration to maintain the thaw in relations with the US.