U.S. Rep. Castor Meets with Cuban President, Stresses Importance of Continued Dialogue and Engagement

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL14) released the following statement after meeting with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel during his visit to the United Nations General Assembly today:

“For the first time in nearly six decades, the world is seeing Cuba without a Castro at the helm. For the United States, this is a new opportunity for improved relations with our neighbor just 90 miles off the Florida coast – one we cannot afford to let slip by. During the meeting, I stressed the importance of continued dialogue and engagement between the U.S. and Cuba to benefit the citizens of both countries. President Díaz-Canel expressed the hope for normal relations between the two countries as well.

“I shared the desire of Tampa families and businesses for greater opportunities in education, trade, health care, agriculture and more. The Cuban government has sent mixed messages and not followed through on some shared business plans during the most significant transition of power that occurred over the past couple of years. Cuba’s new leader has the opportunity to usher in a number of positive changes on the island and we encouraged him to focus on improving the everyday lives of Cubans including increased access to the internet and support for the Cuban private sector.

“Now, with the Trump Administration’s return to Cold War policies toward the island, it is more difficult to build trust and successfully push for improvements in family travel and human rights. At a time of historic transition in the leadership of Cuba and revision to its constitution, Trump has practically shut down the American embassy and America’s presence on the island including political officers that monitor human rights and promote American interests. This is unfortunate and unwise.

“Our wide-ranging conversation included a bipartisan and bicameral group of members of Congress and ranged from renewable energy, human rights, agriculture, travel, Venezuela, Colombia, telecommunications and even Major League Baseball. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, director general of the United States Department at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Carlos Fernández de Cossío, and Cuban Ambassador to the United States José Cabañas also were in attendance, as well as President Díaz-Canel’s wife Lis Cuesta Peraza.”

U.S. Rep. Castor visited Cuba in 2013, and upon her return she called for lifting the Cuba embargo and sent a letter to President Obama and Secretary Kerry outlining the changes, challenges, and opportunities she saw for modernizing relations with the island. Since then, she has brought Cuban Ambassador Jose Cabañas to Tampa to discuss greater engagement and economic reforms, held Tampa/Cuba forums to educate the Tampa Bay region’s families and businesses on the evolving landscape, attended the opening of the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C. and filed bipartisan legislation to lift the Cuba embargo to end the status quo in Cuba and make real progress on human rights. U.S. Rep. Castor revived the House bipartisan Cuba Working Group to build broader support in Congress for greater engagement with Cuba and has led a bipartisan Congressional delegation to the island to survey progress and examine travel, trade, jobs, internet access, human rights and agriculture. She has been critical of President Trump’s decision to reinstate failed isolationist policies towards Cuba.

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Kathy Castor urges Rex Tillerson to restore U.S. diplomats to Cuba

Fresh off a Cuban visit last week, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is calling on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to return consular officials and diplomatic personnel to the U.S. Embassy in Havana as soon as possible.

Tillerson withdrew 60 percent of diplomats from the embassy in Havana last fall after unexplained attacks harmed at least 22 American government workers and family members. Investigators explored the possibility of a “sonic attack” injuring diplomats through sound waves; they discovered no device nor a culprit.

“While I appreciate your overriding concern with the health and safety of our diplomats following the unexplained health incidents, it is time to increase staffing and re-establish an American presence to serve our interests and our citizens,” the Tampa Democrat wrote in the letter to Tillerson sent Wednesday.

The State Department is scheduled to decide the status of the embassy by next week.

Shortly after Tillerson ordered the removal of U.S. diplomats from Cuba, the State Department then opted to suspend all visa processing in Havana, moving that function to Bogota, Columbia.

Castor, representing a district that is home to one of the largest Cuban-American populations in the country, said it’s “unreasonable and unaffordable” for Cubans who want to travel to Tampa or Miami to go to another country to do so.

The U.S. had provided 1,100 visas a month to Cuban immigrants last year before the diplomatic imbroglio; that number has since trickled down to just 350 per month.

In 2013, Castor became the first member of Congress from Florida to call for removing the Cuban economic embargo, a decision that can only happen via a congressional vote. She has consistently championed the liberalization of the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba since the early part of this decade.

But the diplomatic breakthrough started by President Barack Obama in late 2014 came to a screeching halt when Donald Trump was elected in 2016. Among the policy changes his administration rolled back from the Obama White House was travel.

Last summer, Trump announced that Americans would no longer be able to plan their own private trips to Cuba, and those who did had to go through authorized educational tours, subject to strict new rules and audits to ensure that they are not going just as tourists.

Castor calls that plan “overreaching.”

“This is counterproductive and complicates America’s ability to support everyday Cubans and promote the exchange of ideas,” The Tampa Democrat complains.

Castor visited Cuba earlier this month with fellow Democratic Reps. James McGovern from Massachusetts and Susan Davis from California, as well as Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Gary Peters from Michigan and Ron Wyden from Oregon.

The entire delegation, except for Castor, chose to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro during the visit. Castro will step down in April.

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