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Steve C.
Democrat TN 9

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  • United States-Cuban Relations

    by Representative Steve Cohen

    Posted on 2015-01-07

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    COHEN. You are very welcome, Representative Lee, and I thank you for bringing this Special Order. You have indeed, as people have said, been the leader on this issue for many years, and I appreciate that and so many other issues you have been a leader on, but this in particular.

    Also, Mr. Rangel has been an important leader on this issue, as have Mr. Meeks and others.

    I had written the President and talked to Valerie Jarrett about what I considered the three Cs that he could engage in with executive authority, one of which was Cuba, and I commend him for taking this leadership role; the second of which was commutations, which he has not done nearly enough to commute unjust sentences here in this country; and the third is cannabis, which should be rescheduled to a schedule III drug so we could do research on medical marijuana and Charlotte's Web, that can help children with epilepsy who otherwise are either dying are not being treated.

    But I commend the President for his actions toward Cuba. This is a policy that many have mentioned has been a failed policy for over 50 years. We do have engagements and diplomatic relations with China, where the Maoists are getting more and more power, with Vietnam and with Russia. Why should we not have relations with Cuba? There was no reason. The only reason was Florida and electoral votes. So I commend the President for rising above politics and doing the right thing for human beings and for Americans.

    As Representative Castor said, so many Americans want to travel to Cuba; and for many years I thought it was absurd that I couldn't travel to Cuba, because I wanted to and I couldn't because my country was stopping me from doing it.

    People were going through Canada or going through Mexico and other countries and getting in and subverting the law, but that wasn't right. If you were going to follow the laws of your country, you couldn't go and you didn't go. It was wrong.

    I did the have the opportunity to visit Cuba as a Member, and I found the Cuban people very, very, very friendly. As I was walking around Havana, I thought: This is so strange. I am supposed to think that these people aren't going to like me, that this is our enemy. They are on the terrorist list. I should be concerned.

    But I felt as safe as I was anyplace in the United States or anyplace in the world, and people were very friendly and very nice. It was no different than being anywhere else in the hemisphere.

    I really like the old cars, the old fifties cars that are all over Havana, and they are kind of part of the culture now. While I like them because I remember as a child those cars and my parents having them and seeing them and thinking fondly upon them, I also thought about AutoZone in my district and all the parts they could be selling in Havana to make those cars work more efficiently and maybe have less impact on the environment.

    I also thought about Federal Express and how many packages that might be shipped in and out of Cuba by America's number one and the world's number one carrier of products. I thought about the hotel industry that is located in my community--we used to have Holiday Inn; we have still got Hilton--and the hotels that could be built there. Other countries-- mostly, I think, Spain and Sweden and Canada and even Israel--had hotels and restaurants and businesses, but not America. So it made no sense.

    I remember Katrina and the great tragedy just south of Memphis in New Orleans and when Cuba offered medical aid, doctors and medical aid, and we turned it down. How foolish of us to turn down an offer of humanitarian aid, but we did. And they offered aid after 9/11 as well.

    Now, my appreciation for Cuba goes back to my childhood. In 1955, I was befriended by a baseball player whose name was Minnie Minoso. His real name was Aurelio Saturnino Armas Minoso, the Cuban Comet, number 9 with the White Sox, with the Indians, a little bit later with the Cardinals and the Washington Senators. Minnie befriended me and gave me a baseball when I was just 5 years of age. It was in the segregated Memphis, Tennessee, so the player who gave me the baseball originally was a White player named Tom Poholsky. I guess I didn't have to say he was White when his name was Tom Poholsky, but he was.

    I went to thank him. I had crutches at the time. I had just gotten out of the hospital some months earlier from polio and had a White Sox T-shirt and cap--it was an exhibition game--and thanked him. He said: You don't need to thank me. You should thank number 9 over there, the darkest player on the field.

    And so Minoso came over and we thanked him.

    What it was is he was kind of inhibited from the segregation laws in the South of being the nicest guy on the baseball field and coming up and giving me a ball. He became my buddy. I have known Minnie Minoso ever since. He is my nom de plume on some email sites and some phone books and some other things where I need kind of an alias, and he has been my friend and we have visited back and forth.

    He was a Cuban player who was beloved in Chicago, and I think is the most beloved player in Chicago today. A lot of Cuban players have gone to play in Chicago, and they play great baseball. We could have a great baseball relationship with Cuba, a great tourism relationship, a great cultural relationship and medical care.

    In traveling to Latin America as a Congressman, I have been told the biggest impediment to our relations with Latin American countries is our treatment of Cuba. The President, by starting to formalize relations with Cuba, has helped America in Latin America, which is our number one--South America, Central America--our number one trading partner. It makes a lot of sense economically as well as humanely.

    I look forward to the time when all Americans can visit Cuba, the great culture, and exchange good wishes. They are our friends.

    Thank you, Representative Lee, for having this session on this program which shows President Obama's leadership.

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