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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Cuba

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2015-01-20

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    DURBIN. On a separate topic, late last night I returned from Havana, Cuba, with Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Stabenow, Senator Whitehouse, Congressman Van Hollen, and Congressman Welch of Vermont. It was a whirlwind trip.

    In a matter of 2 days we had a number of visits with a variety of different people in Havana. They included government officials. Bruno Rodriguez, who is the Foreign Minister of the Cuban Government; we had a lengthy meeting with him yesterday.

    We had a meeting with about 10 different Ambassadors to Cuba from foreign countries. We met as well with a dozen reformers or dissidents, opponents of the current Castro regime in Cuba, and had individual meetings with ministries. This was a productive and important delegation trip, important because starting tomorrow we are going to have face-to-face negotiations in Havana between the United States and Cuba pursuant to President Obama's December 17 announcement. We are setting out to change the foreign policy of the United States as it regards Cuba. It is time for change.

    For over 50 years we have been committed to a policy of exclusion, believing if we had embargoes and blockades we could force internal change in Cuba. The policy failed. The Castro brothers still reign, and life in Cuba is not what we want to see.

    What the President has said is let's engage them at a different level, a constructive level where we try to find ways to open the Cuban economy and Cuban society. That, to me, is the best course. It isn't just a theory that is the best course, it has been proven.

    When the Soviet Empire came to an end, what happened to the Warsaw Pact nations allied with the Soviet Union? They opened their doors to the West, they saw what they could anticipate to be part of their life in the future, and they made the conscious choice to move toward democracy, to move toward a free market economy. I think the same can happen in Cuba.

    One young man came to speak to us. He had gotten in trouble because he challenged the Cuban Government. They put him back on a pig farm to work, but he was still determined to aspire to a better place in Cuba in the future. He said to us: What President Obama's announcement has done is to pull the blanket off the caged bird in Cuba. Those of us who live in Cuba are still in the cage of communism, but we can see out now about opportunities and a future. That, I believe, is part of what the President's new policy is all about.

    When we were discussing our current blockade with Cuba with their leadership, we learned that powdered milk comes to Cuban citizens from New Zealand--halfway around the world--when there is an ample supply in the United States. What we are trying to do is to not only open the Cuban economy to powdered milk but to the power of ideas, the exchange of values, the belief that if the Cuban people see a better model for their future, they will gravitate toward that model.

    This negotiation which opens this week is the beginning of this conversation. The President is moving in areas of trade and travel, as we hope he will do, to expand these opportunities, but we have to do our part in Congress. As contentious and spirited as the debate may be about changing our policy in Cuba, it wasn't that long ago that we stood on the floor of the Senate and considered establishing diplomatic relations with Vietnam. There were some with fresh memories of all we had lost, over 40,000 American lives in Vietnam, who said we shouldn't have a normal relationship with what is a repressive regime in a country we just concluded a war with. Others with cooler minds prevailed, and we established diplomatic relations and I think to the betterment of both nations.

    Let us move forward, not forsaking our principles, not turning our back on our belief that the Cuban society should be more open, fair, and legitimized by the voters at the polls but believing we can work with this country as we have with others around the world, even when we disagree with their form of government and their practices, to try to strive to reach that democratic ideal.


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