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Sheila J.
Democrat TX 18

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  • United States-Cuban Relations

    by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee

    Posted on 2015-01-07

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    JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, as you notice, Members who are on the floor today have come from a variety of States, a variety of political philosophies and positions. I think it is appropriate to acknowledge Congresswoman Barbara Lee for galvanizing Members on both sides of the aisle on an important and enormous leap of change that we have made over the years by her determination and persistence and knowledge. So I thank her very much for that kind of leadership, allowing many of us to travel to Cuba on any number of occasions, meeting with Fidel Castro, speaking about issues of government and the needs of the Cuban people and the needs of the American people.

    To my colleagues, everyone who has visited, they have found the Cuban people hospitable and friendly, desiring peace, and respecting America. If there is ever one impression that you have when you leave Cuba, it is the desire for strong relationships and the connectedness between Cubans, Cuban-Americans, and Americans.

    As a Representative from Texas, I can assure you that over the years I have heard often from members of my agricultural community about their desire to begin engaging with trade in Cuba. And they do so as proud Americans, as Americans who have sent young men and now young women to faraway shores in military uniform to defend this Nation.

    What they see in Cuba, as has been indicated, is a friend with which we had disagreements, but a friend with which we now can find a pathway forward. As was mentioned, we had engaged in a war in Vietnam, we have engaged in a war in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers coming home now with few soldiers left behind. And, Mr. Speaker, we are engaging in diplomatic relations with Iraq, Afghanistan, and certainly Vietnam. How in the world can an island 90 miles away be held in such contempt that we cannot find a pathway forward.

    So I strongly support the executive order of this President, and I will tell you why in just a few minutes of the time that I have remaining. I serve on the Homeland Security Committee, and previously on Judiciary, on which I continue. My colleague is correct. At the time of the young boy by the name of Elian Gonzalez, who was found near the shores of our great Nation, his mother deceased trying to escape, of course, from Cuba with a number of others, there was this custody fight, if you will, about whether or not his relatives here or his father should have custody over him, his father being in Cuba. What a sensitive question for a very young boy who could not make a decision on his own. What a traumatic experience in those difficult waters watching his mother not survive.

    So as a member of that committee, working with my fellow colleagues and working then with the Clinton administration and then Attorney General Janet Reno, though it was not, if I might say, a clear and pretty scene, we knew that in the best interest of the child the parent was the best custodian or guardian, whether or not that child was, in fact, having to go to Cuba.

    But as I said earlier, the Cuban people are peaceful people. Every country has had a revolutionary path, and Cuba has as well. But it was a right decision for Elian, who is now a young man, and to all accounts is performing his duties as a responsible adult. But that was a very tough incident in our political life, if you will, to see a child snatched by officials of this government to take him home to Cuba. Maybe that was, in fact, the first statement of an altered policy.

    Let me close by saying why I believe the President's executive order is legitimate in the context of his legal authority, and I am excited about the beginning of the change in diplomatic relationships between Cuba and the United States.

    Mr. Speaker, would you not want to know who is 90 miles away from you in this time of franchise terrorism? Wouldn't we want to know who our allies are in the Caribbean, or who our allies are in fighting horrific drug trafficking? Well, I think we can find that in the entity of the Cuban government. We know that we have not seen a terrorist incident in that particular country. That is why we need to normalize relations.

    I am grateful for Mr. Gross' return, who was brought out by many Members of Congress, including my colleagues here, including Congresswoman Lee, and as well some of the other political prisoners who have been released, including some in recent days.

    And then lastly let me say, let us celebrate the Cuban people for the magnificent export that they have: medicine, medical research, and physicians. Everyone knows that in the Ebola fight, the largest contingent, or one of the largest contingents of medical professionals, doctors fighting against Ebola on the continent of Africa, is and has been Cuban doctors alongside of the international workforce of medical professionals, Good Samaritans who sacrifice their lives to fight this deadly disease. But every single medical crisis in the world, you can count on Cuban doctors being there, as well as in conflicts and wars, such as over in the Mideast, Cuban doctors go to save lives.

    I want to thank the gentlewoman for this Special Order. I look forward to joining her in further codels to visit and to be part of the continued normalization. I say this not out of disrespect of the feelings of others who have experienced a crisis in their relationship with Cuba, but only to say that now may be the time for peaceful reconciliation, for families to be reconciled and for us to begin this peaceful journey with the nation of Cuba. Let me thank you, thank President Obama, and thank those who are very much a part of this.

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