Alex Isenstadt, Politico, April 7, 2009
Key members of the Congressional Black Caucus are calling for an end to U.S. prohibition on travel to Cuba, just hours after a meeting with former Cuban president Fidel Castro in Havana.
Lee [CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Ca.)] and others heaped praise on Castro, calling him warm and receptive during their discussion. But the lawmakers disputed Castro’s later statement that members of the congressional delegation said American society is still racist.
“It was almost like listening to an old friend,” said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Il.), adding that he found Castro’s home to be modest and Castro’s wife to be particularly hospitable.
“In my household I told Castro he is known as the ultimate survivor,” Rush said.
Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Ca.) said Castro was receptive to President Obama’s message of turning the page in American foreign policy.
“He listened. He said the exact same thing” about turning the page “as President Obama said,” said Richardson.
Richardson said Castro knew her name and district. “He looked right into my eyes and he said, ‘How can we help? How can we help President Obama?'”
President Obama vowed during the 2008 presidential campaign to loosen the longstanding travel embargo on Cuba, and Lee–who has been pushing for an end to travel and trade restrictions for some time–said now was as good a time as any to change the way the two countries did business.
In a statement following the meeting today, Castro said that the delegation had expressed to him that a segment of American society “continues to be racist,” and is at least partly to blame for the travel restrictions.
But the delegation this evening said those remarks were not expressed in the meeting.
“That did not happen,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), told reporters.