An important political delegation from the United States is here with us. They are from the Congressional Black Caucus (C.B.C.) which, in practice, has functioned as part of the most progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
It was founded in January 1969, by 12 African Americans, who integrated the U.S. Congress at that time. In the first 50 years of the 20th Century, only four African-Americans were elected to Congress. Actually, as a consequence of their struggles, the C.B.C. have 42 members. Several of their representatives have held constructive, very active positions on themes related to Cuba.
The first delegation of the caucus to visit us was led by Maxine Waters, in February 1999; the second, in January of 2000. Influential members of that congressional group took public positions and engaged in other positive actions during the battle over the return of the boy, Elián, to Cuba.
In May of 2000, another delegation from the caucus visited us, led by the person who was then their leader, James Clyburn of North Carolina, with Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, and Gregory Meeks of New York. These congressmen were the first to receive my gift from Cuba of scholarships for young people of low income for the purpose of studying medicine in our country, students who would be selected by the C.B.C. We made the same offer to the NGO, Pastors for Peace, led by Reverend Lucius Walker, who sent the first students to the Latin America School of Medicine.
When pressure and anti-Cuban actions intensified, under the Bush administration, against travel and the presence in Cuba of U.S. citizens, legislators from the Black Caucus approached Secretary of State Colin Powell, and succeeded in securing legal permission for the North American young people to continue their medical studies in Cuba. Perhaps Powell, a military leader with considerable authority and prestige, could have been the first black president of the U.S., but he refused to run, out of respect for his family, who, because of the assassination of Martin Luther King, strongly opposed his candidacy.
The delegation of the Black Caucus now visiting Cuba is presided over by Barbara Lee, representative from California. She traveled to Cuba for the first time, accompanying then-congressman Ronald Dellums, as his assistant; when he retired, she assumed his position. On that occasion, I had the honor of meeting her and admire her fighting spirit and determination.
The present group consists of seven Democrat congressmen; other members of the delegation are: Melvin Luther Watt, of North Carolina; Michael Makoto Honda, of California; Laura Richardson, also of California; Bobby Rush, of Illinois; Marcia L. Fudge, of Ohio, and Emanuel Cleaver II, of Missouri.
Patrice Willoughby, executive assistant of the C.B.C., and four officers with Congressional connections, under the orders of Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Wolf, accompany the delegation.
I value the gesture of the legislative group. They are actively engaged in the program they requested. The spirit of Martin Luther King surrounds them. Our press has covered their presence well, providing exceptional witness to the respect with which North Americans who visit our country are always received. It would be hard for the delegation to find an unfriendly face here; perhaps they admire the complete absence of illiterate people, as well as the absence of children shining shoes in the streets.
No critical eye will miss the rows of children, adolescents and young people, attending schools and universities; the childcare centers and homes for the elderly; the hospitals and healthcare clinics, with highly qualified health personnel, who care for all citizens. In the middle of the international economic crisis, there are no lines of citizens seeking employment. The people, who move through the streets, active and almost always happy, do not resemble the stereotypes of Cuba often presented to the rest of the world.
Our homeland demonstrates that a small country of the Third World, harassed, attacked, and under blockade for dozens of years, can endure its poverty with dignity. Many citizens of the richest countries in the world do not enjoy the same care; and the majority of them do not even vote; yet this right is exercised by more than 90 percent of our population, who can read and write and who maintain an admirable standard of culture and political awareness.
Among our visitors are those with collective opinions and others with personal points of view. In general, they think that 68 percent of U.S. public opinion favor a change in policy with Cuba. One of them said that it is essential to take advantage of this historic moment, during which there is a black president in the White House, as well as current opinion favorable to normalizing relations.
When Ricardo Alarcón [President of the National Assembly of Cuba] explained that it had been a moral duty to stop the arbitrary inclusion of Cuba in the list of terrorist countries, they remembered that both Nelson Mandela and the National African Congress were classified as terrorists by the U.S. Congress. One member thanked Cuban authorities and the president of the caucus for planning the trip and supporting this type of exchange.
Another representative explained the considerable significance of Obama to the U.S., and the need for his re-election. The president considers himself to be a political leader who governs on behalf of all social sectors in the country, he explained. Moreover, he expressed certainty that Obama would change policies toward Cuba, but that Cuba should also help.
A fourth member of the caucus said that, despite the victory of Obama, U.S. society continues to be racist; that Obama represents a unique opportunity for that nation to advance and to surpass the accumulated burdens of previous governments. “The president cannot go beyond freeing up travel and remittances for Cuban Americans, because declaring the end of the blockade or complete normalization of bilateral relationships would mean the impossibility of his re-election.” He also stated that the anti-Cuban right still has sufficient power to corner him and stop his re-election.
Finally, in the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs, another congressman said, with complete frankness, that the U.S. should not miss the opportunity to recognize that its politics regarding Cuba have been a complete disaster. He added that his government should ask forgiveness from Cuba for all these years of hostility, for the blockade policy, because only in this way will we be ready to move forward together toward solving the bilateral disagreement. He indicated, from his position, that he would do all he could to eliminate the blockade.
While visiting the Center of Genetic and Biotechnical Engineering, one of them spoke for everyone, acknowledging Cuba’s excellent outcomes in biotechnology and said that in these times, the political atmosphere is ripe for constructing bridges of understanding and communication among scientific communities in our countries. He recommended that we exercise caution, patenting everything in accordance with international norms for intellectual property, to avoid being robbed of the impact of such marvelous work. All expressed being very impressed with the visit to the center, where the Minister of Science, Technology, and Environment, together with various directors of the scientific institutions, explained our country’s work in that field.
The most important event on April 4th, the day of commemoration of the 41st anniversary of the death of the human rights martyr, was the visit to the park in Cuba’s capitol that carries his name: Martin Luther King. There, one encounters a monolith of dark, green marble, veined with black, with a bronze effigy of the great, black leader, who was assassinated by racists. There, Barbara Lee, Laura Richardson, Emanuel Cleaver II and Bobby Rush spoke. The four emphasized, in that public setting, the positive impact of the supported exchanges.
Yesterday, Sunday, at 1:30 p.m., Congresswoman Barbara Lee arrived at the Ebenezer Church of the Martin Luther King Center, where she was received by Raúl Suárez and directors of the National Council of Cuban Churches. Alarcón and leaders of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were there. Earlier, Ms. Lee had been in two other churches in the Vedado neighborhood. She spoke, again, publicly voicing her intention to negotiate with the administration to foster a change in policy toward Cuba, and to reactivate exchanges between churches in the two countries.
I have reflected on the supported exchange as soon as I could. I have carefully left out the names of the authors of several statements, uncertain whether or not they would want them made public.
I simply want to offer, as completely as possible, the evidence necessary to inform national public opinion, regarding the sensitive subjects of the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. under President Barack Obama, as well as the visit of the C.B.C. in Cuba.