“Cuban officials repeatedly said this was the year to get it done, to unify the currency,” said Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
Cuban leader Raúl Castro reportedly said that the monetary unification could not be delayed anymore in a speech before the National Assembly last year.
Cuba currently operates with two official currencies: the Cuban peso (CUP) and the convertible peso (CUC). Convertible pesos are 25 times more valuable than the Cuban peso. A majority of state workers receive their pay in CUP, but some reportedly receive a percentage of their wages in CUC.
The congressional delegation, comprised of Wyden, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), and Reps. James McGovern (D-MA), Kathy Castor (D-FL), and Susan Davis (D-CA), traveled to Havana to meet with Cuban officials and entrepreneurs to discuss the transition of power when Castro leaves office in April.
They also talked about the investigation into health incidents involving U.S. embassy personnel stationed in Havana, the impact of President Donald Trump’s new regulations, and other issues of bilateral cooperation.
Prior to the meeting, the lawmakers met with Carlos Fernández de Cossio, the new director for U.S. affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry. Fernández de Cossio reportedly “emphasized that there is no evidence that attacks have occurred against U.S. diplomats in Cuba.”
“I have no idea what happened to our diplomats here,” McGovern told the press. “U.S. agencies who are investigating this matter . . . also don’t seem to have a clue of what happened here . . . we may never know what happened.”
Wyden called for more cooperation between the two governments in the investigation of the incidents that affected at least 24 diplomats, their family members, and intelligence agents who were stationed in Havana. “I believe we need to put our best minds on this and invite and expect the hosts to participate in getting this resolved so that our two countries can progress and move forward together,” Wyden said.
The State Department has admitted that it doesn’t know who perpetrated the alleged attacks. Both Cuban and American medical experts acknowledge that something happened, but the cause remains a mystery.
The State Department was forced to cut staff from the embassy after the alleged attacks, and according to the visiting delegation, this has hindered the issuance of visas and the improvement of relations between the two nations.
“We need to get back our embassy fully staffed and we have been reassured there is no conceivable way of granting the number of visas that we have agreed,” Leahy said. “There is no way we’re going to have improved relations if we don’t have the personnel to do it.”
The delegation also spoke with Cuban entrepreneurs who said the current administration’s Cuba policy was hurting businesses.
“Cuba is changing and soon it will experience a historic generational change in its leadership,” McGovern said. “Regrettably in this moment of this nation’s history U.S. engagement is limited.”