ShareThis Page
World

U.S. senator in Cuba says normal relations 'weeks away'

| Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 8:30 p.m.

HAVANA — The historic process of restoring long-severed diplomatic relationship between the United States and Cuba that began Dec. 17 will likely come to a successful end in a matter of weeks, a U.S. senator said during a visit to the island Wednesday.

A 45-day period for Congress to challenge a decision by President Obama to remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a key obstacle to improved relations, will expire Friday and the remaining issues will then get quickly resolved, Sen. Tom Udall told reporters in Havana.

“We are just two days away. There has not been a vote in the Congress so that's going to stand,” Udall said. “I think it will be a matter of weeks when we have restored diplomatic relations.”

U.S. and Cuban officials have said the two sides are close to resolving the final issues that would allow both countries to re-open embassies and exchange ambassadors for the first time since the United States severed diplomatic relations in January 1961.

Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who led a four-member Democratic congressional delegation to Cuba, said there appears to be growing momentum to removing at least elements of the U.S. trade embargo first imposed in 1960.

There is bipartisan support for separate pieces of legislation that would permanently end a ban on travel, allow trade in agricultural goods and enable U.S. telecommunications and Internet companies to provide services and devices in Cuba, the senator said.

The delegation, which included Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Rep. John Larson of Connecticut, spoke to reporters after meeting with Cuban officials and small business owners. All four members of the delegation support lifting the trade embargo, which the Cubans say has badly damaged their economy over the past five decades.

Obama softened aspects of the embargo and called on Congress to end it during his State of the Union address in January.

Franken said there is strong support among the U.S. public for normal relations.

“I think there is a very small minority, really, in the Senate and the Congress who have strong objections to this and I think that a majority of the American people and a majority of the Congress would be for lifting the embargo,” he said. “But there is work to be done.”

Some of that work emerged as the members of Congress spoke to reporters. Franken was asked about the presence of the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which Castro said must be returned to Cuba. Franken dodged the question, saying, “I don't believe that that is a salient issue at this time.” He then added that he doesn't have a “strong opinion” on the base, though he supports closing the detention center there for terrorism suspects.

Udall was asked about the presence of criminals suspected of crimes in the United States who have found refuge in Cuba. The senator raised the example of Charlie Hill, who fled to the island after killing a police officer in New Mexico in 1971, and said he should be extradited.

“I assume with the normalization of relations we are going to have a lot more discussions about things like that,” Udall said.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me