Cuban President Raul Castro on Tuesday met a delegation of US Congressmen led by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss) who were visiting Cuba.
Judging by comments expressed by the congressional delegation, Castro appears to want to continue working on improved ties with Washington despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s vow to reverse direction.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a longtime advocate of better ties with Cuba, told reporters Wednesday that Castro expressed his desire to continue work on market-oriented reforms.
Leahy added that Castro gave the group two signed copies of a speech he gave last month in the Dominican Republic that expressed a desire to work with Trump.
That speech is the only real indication from the Cuban government of its intentions with the new U.S. administration.
In the speech, Castro said he wanted to keep negotiating the bilateral relationship with the U.S. and, “pursue respectful dialogue and cooperation on themes of common interest with the new government of President Donald Trump.”
Raul Castro “wants reform to continue, he wants the movement forwards to continue,” said Leahy at the news conference in the U.S. embassy, after meeting with the Cuban president on Tuesday. “The number of people he had from his administration talk to us made it very clear they want us to continue.”
Senator Thad Cochran, one member of the group accompanying Leahy on the trip, told reporters Wednesday that the Trump administration seems to have, “a new openness, a willingness to take chances,” although he allowed that such spontaneity could be problematic in negotiations with Cuba.
“I think that [the spontaneity] has people a little nervous,” Cochran said, “because you don’t know what the new president’s going to announce or say in the next minute.”
Senator Tom Udall, another member of the group, answered a reporter’s question about “moving toward a new perspective on Cuba.” He told the reporter that the United States and Cuba “have already built on several issues — bipartisan, pro-engagement amendments.”
The U.S. severed diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961 after the Cuban Revolution that put communist leader Fidel Castro in power. In 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, who had taken over for his brother Fidel six years earlier, began the process of normalizing relations.
Obama became the first U.S. president in 88 years to visit Cuba when he traveled to Havana in March 2016. Since then, the U.S. has begun easing travel and trade restrictions with the island nation.