Republican congressmen Roger Marshal of Kansas, Jack Bergman of Michigan, James Comer of Kentucky, and Tom Emmer and Jason Lewis of Minnesota met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on Monday, March 6 to discuss foreign relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Cuban Foreign Minister Director Josefina Vidal and U.S. Deputy Director General Gustavo Machin were also in attendance.
This is the second U.S. delegation to visit the island during the Trump administration. Two weeks ago, Republican Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi was part of a congressional delegation that was welcomed by President Raul Castro at a three-day business forum to discuss relations and explore future business opportunities between the U.S. and Cuba.
The bipartisan delegation was led Democratic Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who played a big role in former President Barack Obama’s efforts to warm relations with Cuba. Cochran oversaw the signing of agreements to encourage business opportunities between two Mississippi ports, the ports of Gulfport and Pascagoula, and Cuba because of their geographical proximity. Similar agreements were signed by Louisiana, Virginia, and Alabama in January.
Port authorities strongly support increased trade and travel with the island. Some have shown interest in using Mariel, a town in the Artimisa Province west of Havana, as a transshipment hub.
The Florida ports of Palm Beach and Everglades had also planned to sign agreements with Cuba in January, but port authorities shelved those plans after Republican Governor Rick Scott threatened to cut off state funding to any Florida port that did business with the “Cuban dictatorship.”
Scott even offered to help President Trump with his campaign promise to undo Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba. Trump tweeted in November saying he was prepared to “terminate” the former president’s agreements if Cuba did not “make a better deal.”
Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida also criticized the congressional delegations that have been traveling to Cuba for not meeting with members of the opposition. She slammed them for not talking about the human rights violations and other problems caused by the Castro’s communist regime.
“Will they have the courage to do it or do they just want an excursion to make Cuba attractive?” Ros-Lehtinen asked in a speech challenging the members of congress who traveled to Cuba. She suggested that they march with the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), a movement fighting for the release of political prisoners.
Ros-Lehtinen was the first Cuban American elected to Congress. She has plans to propose a bill to call the U.S. to withdraw from the UNHRC because it ignores the abuses of regimes like China, Syria, and Cuba.
Cuba has so far not responded to the U.S. leadership’s provocation and has continued demonstrating its willingness to engage under the new administration. But Cuba watchers are looking closely to see how the new U.S.-Cuba relations will fare under Trump.