San Jose Mercury News
Rep. Barbara Lee heading to Cuba to talk tourism and trade
By Angela Woodall
Posted: 04/02/2009 06:20:38 PM PDT
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will be heading to Cuba today with a congressional delegation to discuss thawing relations between the United States and the Caribbean island.
The diplomatic overture signals a possible easing off policies that had hardened under the Republican administration of former President George W. Bush.
"The election of President Barack Obama presents a great new opportunity to rethink U.S. foreign policy in many regions of the world," Lee said.
The purpose of the delegation is to review trade and commerce policies with Cuba and discuss cultural, health and academic exchanges, which are complicated by a ban on travel to Cuba for most U.S. citizens — the only country in the world to bar its citizens from visiting the island.
Lee also has joined Democratic and Republican House members in supporting a bill introduced Thursday to lift the travel restrictions.
Critics of the ban estimate that U.S. tourism to Cuba — just 90 miles from the southernmost point of the 48 contiguous states — could generate as much as $1.6 billion annually.
But there are fears that an influx of U.S. tourism would lead Cuba in an unwanted direction. Others oppose the move because they say it would bolster the Communist regime headed by Raul Castro.
Cuba's official response to the bill to lift travel restrictions has been cool, according to press accounts. The reason for the response may be that the bill does not advocate ending the economic, financial and commercial embargo that has been in place for 45 years.
The U.S. government imposed the blockade after Fidel Castro, who led the 1959 revolution that ousted the U.S.-backed Batista regime, took control of U.S. properties, particularly the American [United] Fruit Cmpany. Raul Castro, his brother, took over leadership in 2008.
Lee said she wants to send a message to Cubans that the U.S. public is interested in "building a new relationship."
"America's harsh approach toward our nearest Caribbean neighbor divides families, closes an important market to struggling U.S. farmers, harasses our allies, and is based on antiquated Cold War-era thinking," Lee said.
Reach Angela Woodall at 510-208-6413 or email@example.com