A picture of Representative Gregory W. Meeks
Gregory M.
Democrat NY 5

About Rep. Gregory
  • United States-Cuban Relations

    by Representative Gregory W. Meeks

    Posted on 2015-01-07

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    MEEKS. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank Barbara Lee for her steadfastness, for her tenacity, for her consistency in trying to bring a change in a policy that has been faulty, for it has been the policy that we have been doing over and over and over again, we have had over and over again and getting the same results: zero.

    I want to thank Barbara for her hard work on this. I look forward to continuing to work with her as the President has opened up the opportunity for diplomatic relations with Cuba again, but we know that we still have a lot of work to do, and I look forward to working side by side with her until we have the kind of relationship and we have the kind of movement in this Congress where we really end the embargo, so that we can come together and make sure that change has happened within our relationships.

    I want to thank President Obama for his bold move, for indeed the camera of history is rolling and has brought us to this historic point which will take the United States of America and Cuba in a new and more positive direction after over five decades of severed diplomatic relations.

    American policy towards Cuba since 1961 has left our Nation out of sync with our neighbors in the Americas--for that matter, out of sync with our friends and allies all over the world.

    Our outdated policy, highlighted by our trade embargo, which has lasted for over half a century, has not only been ineffective but has blocked investment and trade opportunities for U.S. businessmen and farmers, it has kept families apart, and has done virtually nothing to change Cuba's policies.

    [[Page H99]] In fact, just 90 miles away, if we had these trade agreements, if we were able to trade and bring markets and food to the shores of Cuba, it would be the humanitarian thing to do because people are starving simply because they don't have that opportunity on the island of Cuba.

    Clearly, when you think about the world which is smaller now--and one of the things that we should have learned by now is that unilateral sanctions don't work; if anything, they have further isolated us from the global community. We have got to work collectively with others, not just doing something out on our own. It has not worked. It does not work.

    As mentioned, denying American citizens the freedom to travel to Cuba to visit its many historic and cultural attractions, to meet its people, has been a stain on our democracy. I think the gentlelady from Florida talked about where we, as Members of Congress, have opportunities to go when we have travel.

    I can recall traveling, for example, not only to Havana, but Santiago de Cuba, and feeling the rich heritage and culture and looking at the people in Santiago who were poor, but I saw something when I looked in their faces: they were poor, but they were not hopeless. They were not destitute.

    They welcomed us into their homes to see how they were living. They had music playing, and they had hope for a better tomorrow and a better relationship with the United States of America. In fact, they scratched their heads, did not understand why they didn't have this better relationship with the United States of America, so I say that so that they want us to come. Others are going; we should permit our citizens to do the same.

    Now, the question is what is happening here in America. Well, a December 17 through 21 ABC News and Washington Post poll of adults nationwide showed that 64 percent of Americans supported establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, with 31 percent opposed; 68 percent supported ending the trade embargo, while 74 percent supported ending restrictions on travel to Cuba. Americans support the President's actions to normalize relations with Cuba.

    The United States International Trade Commission has concluded that if U.S. restrictions on financing and travel to Cuba were lifted in 2008, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba would have increased between $216 million and $478 million, and the U.S. share of Cuba's agricultural imports would have increased from 38 percent to 49 and 64 percent, which also would prevent some of the hunger that is taking place in Cuba.

    U.S. wheat, rice, soy, and meat producers have said that their industries will benefit from normalized relations with Cuba, now that trade financing restrictions are to be alleviated. President Obama's plan to establish relations and facilitate trade and commerce is a major market opportunity.

    It is good for Cubans, but it is also good for Americans because when you do that, you are also creating jobs for Americans right here in the United States, so it is a win-win because we are all about creating jobs in the United States. We are all about that commerce.

    We are also all about making sure that trade facilitation helps us in America, but it also can help people who have a great need on that island called Cuba.

    President Obama's actions to open the relationship and reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba will bring us closer, as Barbara Lee indicated, to our allies in the region who have pursued more open relationship with Cuba while we have not.

    I serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee; I sit on the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee. I have had the opportunity to have dialogue and conversations with heads of states from throughout the hemisphere.

    For example, one of our closest allies, Colombia, one of our strongest partners, they are negotiating with the FARC on the island of Cuba; and when I talk to many of their individuals, they said the one thing that they think could help the entire hemisphere is for the United States to change its relationship with Cuba.

    Now, Colombia is one of our strongest, one of our most reliable allies, but they, too, have engaged with Cuba and are asking and looking and saying that our engagement with Cuba will change and help the hemisphere.

    Panama has invited President Castro to the Summit of the Americas, and the rest of our hemisphere wants this change, and our antiquated policy has been holding us back and hampering our ability to cooperate with countries in the region on a wide range of issues.

    Let me begin to conclude by saying this: the President's historic announcement has been universally well received by the region, which is heralding it as a major step forward in regional integration.

    The Presidents of Brazil, Argentina, and--as I said--Colombia and Mexico have praised President Obama's announcement. The announcement has also been applauded by regional organizations, including the Union of South American Nations and the Organization of American States.

    I conclude by saying that I have visited Cuba many times. I have worked tirelessly throughout my years in Congress to foster an improved relationship between United States and Cuba, and I believe the President's actions are good for both our countries and our hemisphere.

    American businesses will benefit, U.S. citizens will be able to travel to Cuba on a more regular basis and send remittances to their relatives by reopening our Embassy in Havana. We will be a safer place, and finally--finally--the world often looks to the United States to be a leader militarily. We should be proud that the world can also look at us as champions of diplomacy.

    Through our President's new Cuba policy, we have shown our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere--and indeed the rest of the world--that we are committed to building new partnerships and that we will not be beholden to antiquated policies and that we are optimistic about what is possible through dialogue and diplomacy, and I thank the chairman.

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