United States President Barack Obama’s speech to the Cuban people unsurprisingly found supporters and critics.
But one US Senator saw something else: a watershed moment.
US Senator Patrick Leahy, who was part of the American delegation on the trip, was in the Gran Teatro in Havana to hear Obama’s speech.
“It was a powerful speech, and I was privileged to be in the hall where it was given,” Leahy said. “It received applause from both Cubans and U.S. citizens.”
Above: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Leahy has been one of the leading advocates in the US Congress to shift US policy toward Cuba in recent years, having made trips to Cuba before this week, most recently in 2014 to accompany freed prisoner Alan Gross in his return home.
Leahy, who represents the state of Vermont, noted that “There was criticism of actions by the Cuban government and acknowledgements of some mistakes by our government.”
“I was sitting near President Castro, and I thought his reaction was genuine when he stood to applaud President Obama when he finished,” he said.
“I talked with Cuban leaders, and with church leaders like Cardinal Ortega, who brought the message from the Pope to the President, and they all agreed the speech signaled a remarkable turning point in our relations. I know how far we’ve come in a year, but I also know there still is a long way to go,” Leahy said.