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Rep. Barbara Lee Hails President Obama’s Upcoming Cuba Visit

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) is a longtime advocate of normalizing US-Cuban relations. (Photo: Democracy Now screen grab)

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) is a longtime advocate of normalizing US-Cuban relations. (Photo: Democracy Now screen grab)

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who has advocated normalization of US-Cuban relations for decades, hailed President Barack Obama’s decision to visit Cuba as an important step toward ending more than 50 years of “failed US policy” toward its socialist neighbor.

On Thursday, the White House announced that President Obama will meet with Cuban President Raúl Castro and political dissidents when he makes his historic visit to Cuba next month, becoming the first American president to travel to the island since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. The trip marks the latest development in a US-Cuba rapprochement that began with a December 2014 announcement that the two nations, which have been at odds since Fidel Castro led a leftist revolution that toppled a brutal but US-backed dictatorship in 1959, would restore diplomatic relations.

“I applaud the President for announcing this historic trip to Cuba. This trip is the next step in his continued efforts to end fifty plus years of failed US policy toward Cuba,” said Rep. Lee, who is best known in progressive circles for having cast the lone dissenting vote in Congress (518-1) against the punitive war in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, in a statement. “In the last 14 months, President Obama has achieved more through diplomatic cooperation than our nation realized through more than five decades of ineffective isolation.”

Obama billed his upcoming trip as an opportunity “to advance… efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people.” However, a crippling US economic embargo has remained in place for more than 55 years, causing and exacerbating great hardship on the island of 11.2 million people. Cuba’s government claims the embargo has cost the nation’s economy more than $1.1 trillion over the past half century, and the United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly voted—most recently 188-2—to condemn the US embargo.

Lee called on her congressional colleagues to “join [Obama] in writing this new chapter in US-Cuba relations” by jettisoning remnants of the bitter Cold War superpower standoff that ended a generation ago.

“Congress must lift the travel ban and the counterproductive embargo,” insisted Lee. “These policies are relics of the Cold War that infringe on the freedoms of Americans and restrict the creation of new American jobs.”

Lee has been working on US-Cuba policy for nearly 40 years. She first traveled to the island in 1977 as part of a National Conference of Black Lawyers delegation and while there she felt a strong connection with Cuba’s Afro-Hispanic culture. Witnessing first-hand the great suffering caused by the US embargo to people “who looked just like me, who acted just like me” made Lee a staunch opponent of the economic blockade, and in addition returning to Cuba some 20 times in the decades to come Lee also fought tirelessly in Congress for the lifting of the embargo after her election in 1998.

Lee’s efforts won her praise from not only US progressive activists but also from Fidel Castro himself, who hailed her work toward normalizing relations during her tenure as head of the Congressional Black Caucus. In a 2009 memo, “Comrade Fidel” also lauded Lee for casting “the sole vote against Bush’s genocidal war in Iraq.”

“It was unbeatable proof of political courage,” wrote Castro. “For that, she deserves every honor.”

Lee also played an important role in returning 6-year-old Elián González, who was found on a makeshift raft off the Florida coast after his mother died in an attempt to flee to the United States, to Cuba in 2000 over the fierce opposition of most Cuban-Americans and conservative politicians and pundits.

Concluding her latest statement on Cuba, Lee stressed the need to “recommit to once and for all ending more than five decades of failed policy toward Cuba.”

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy, who according to former special assistant Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., wanted to unleash “the terrors of the earth” on Cuba, ordered the embargo with the goal of creating enough hardship among Cubans to provoke regime change. Along with the embargo, the US, especially the CIA, waged a decades-long covert war of terrorism against its tiny island neighbor via a series of unsuccessful attempts to overthrow the Castro regime. The ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion was the most infamous of these efforts. Lesser-known are the many assassination attempts against Castro, which included exploding cigars and seashells, an aborted hit by a ‘femme fatale’ lover and cooperation with Mafia leaders, who lost a fortune after Castro “cleaned up” Havana following the revolution.

Anti-Castro terrorist groups have also been given safe haven, weapons and training in the United States, especially in Florida. These groups have committed scores of bombings, assassinations and other attacks in Cuba, the United States and other nations. Among these are the car bomb assassination of former Chilean minister Orlando Letelier and his young American aide Ronni Moffitt in 1976 and the bombing that same year of Cubana Airlines Flight 455, which killed 73 innocent civilians in what was, until 9/11, the Western Hemisphere’s worst-ever act of air terrorism.

The perpetrators of these and other attacks have repeatedly been hailed as heroes among America’s Cuban exile population, including prominent Republican lawmakers and leaders who have championed their cause. Florida conservatives including Sen. Marco Rubio and US Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who unapologetically supports anti-Castro terrorism, remain staunchly opposed to any attempts to loosen the economic noose strangling Cuba.

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