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Barbara L.
Democrat CA 13

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  • United States-Cuban Relations

    by Representative Barbara Lee

    Posted on 2015-01-07

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    LEE. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that Members may have 5 legislative days to revise and extend their remarks.

    The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentlewoman from California? There was no objection.

    Ms. LEE. Mr. Speaker, this evening I stand with my colleagues to discuss an issue that is very important to this country, and that is our country's relations with Cuba. It has been 50 years--five decades-- of a failed policy. Our wrongheaded policy toward Cuba, born of cold war tensions, has failed. Our policies have been in dire need of updating ever since. This island nation, which lies just 90 miles from our shores, one of our closest neighbors, should be a partner in our hemisphere, not an estranged country or enemy. Along with many of my congressional colleagues, many of whom are gathered here tonight, we have been fighting to make that a reality for decades.

    I would now like to move toward and talk a little bit about some of the issues that many of us have been involved in, and then I will yield to my colleagues.

    In the past, addressing our failed policies toward Cuba really had strong and clear bipartisan support in Congress. Recent polling shows it has bipartisan support amongst the American people. According to a 2014 survey commissioned by the Atlantic Council, more than 60 percent of Americans support lifting the travel and economic restrictions on Cuba, and 56 percent of Americans support changing overall United States policy towards Cuba. That includes 63 percent of Floridians, 62 percent of Latinos, and 52 percent of Republicans.

    Thanks to recent, very bold actions from President Obama, we have finally made some headway in this fight. We have started down the long and hard road towards ending our failed policies and establishing policies that promote the freedoms of Americans and Cubans, encourage trade and job creation here in the United States, and support the open exchange of critical medical development and research to treat diseases that afflict many Americans.

    In December, the President announced that the United States will reestablish diplomatic ties, facilitate travel, improve commercial exchanges and telecommunications and a variety of other policies. This is a welcomed and long-overdue response to our calls and the calls of many advocates both in this body and outside, from Cuba, the United States, and around the world.

    Today we come to the floor first to thank President Obama for his leadership and to discuss the important changes he has brought about through his action; but at the same time, we are here to call on this Congress to act to end the outdated embargo while maintaining our Nation's unwavering commitment to human rights and democracy.

    I personally began my efforts to end the embargo when I was a congressional staffer for my predecessor and mentor, Congressman Ron Dellums, in 1977. Since then, I have traveled to Cuba more than 20 times and have led several congressional delegations to that island. Quite frankly, each time I am there, I am struck by how much both of our nations would benefit from improved relations. Over the years, many Members have been proud of their young people who have received their medical education at the Latin American medical school, ELAM, which allows students from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds to study medicine in Cuba for free, returning to the United States to practice in underserved areas.

    When I was chair of the Congressional Black Caucus in the 112th Congress, I was honored to lead a delegation to talk with Cuban officials, including President Raul Castro, to determine their willingness to engage in dialogue with no preconditions in an effort to move toward normalization of relations.

    Recently, we led a bipartisan delegation to examine a new treatment for diabetic foot ulcers that afflict millions of Americans every year. Tragically, this condition often ends in amputations and sometimes death for patients. This new treatment has been developed. It is highly effective. Hopefully Americans can benefit from this treatment if we end the embargo.

    [[Page H97]] So I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that this development and other areas of common interest to the American and Cuban people are pursued and developed, which I will review later in my closing statement.

    Now I yield to the gentlelady from Texas (Ms. Eddie Bernice Johnson), who has visited Cuba and really understands the trade and business aspects and the job-creation aspects of why we need to move forward to end this failed policy.

    Ms. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlelady very much.

    I rise in support of President Obama's recent announcement that updates our diplomatic policy approach to Cuba. I am very pleased to see that our outdated approach to U.S.-Cuban relations will end and we will begin to normalize our relationship with Cuba. Not only does the Obama administration's announcement reestablish positive diplomatic ties with Cuba, it also helps to empower the Cuban people by updating travel restrictions, remittance policies, and quality of life.

    One of the most positive outcomes of the updated policy announcement is the lifting of many trade restrictions between the United States and Cuba. In my home State of Texas, the Texas Farm Bureau has long supported improved trade policies with Cuba because of the potential to export Texas farm products. This provision not only serves the U.S. economy positively, but it is also very meaningful to the Cuban policy, which has struggled tremendously in the past.

    While trade provisions and helping to improve the livelihood of Cuban people by allowing the Cuban economy to build are constructive measures, we must focus on additional viable resources Cuba could provide to the United States. For instance, with the opening of diplomatic ties, I sincerely hope that our State medical boards in the United States will consider the educational value that Cuban medical schools provide to future health professionals who wish to practice medicine in the United States. I have had students from my district attend medical school in Cuba. I am aware that Cuba has offered nurses and physicians around the world in needy countries where needed.

    The aforementioned examples are only a few of the many ways that opening our diplomatic relations with Cuba will be positive for our country, and I urge my colleagues to support the Obama administration's decision to update our relationship with our neighbor and future ally.

    Ms. LEE. Mr. Speaker, I now yield to the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Castor), who represents Tampa and has certainly been a bold leader and understands clearly the economic benefits in her district as they relate to ending the embargo.

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