Congressmen, Muhammed Ali on missions to Cuba

Lucia Newman

January 20, 1996
Web posted at: 12:00 p.m. EST (1700 GMT)

From Correspondent Lucia Newman

HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- Two U.S. Congressmen and a former heavyweight boxing champ visited Cuba on separate missions this week -- an unusually large number of high-profile Americans in the communist-led Caribbean nation. Cuba and the United States have no official ties.


Muhammed Ali, in Cuba on a humanitarian mission, took to the boxing ring in Havana, playfully sparring with young Cuban fighters and even former Cuban boxing great Teofilo Stephenson. When they were in their prime, a fight between Ali and Stephenson would have been "the fight of the century." But it never took place because of the U.S.-Cuban political differences.

The 54-year-old Ali brought with him $500,000 worth of medical supplies -- including medication for Parkinson's disease, a debilitating neurological illness that has plagued Ali for years. Ali's wife, Lonnie, speaking for the former champ at a news conference, said the trip was not political.

"Muhammed is on a humanitarian mission," she said. "Ever since he left the boxing ring, that has been primarily one of his goals and objectives."

Licensed humanitarian donations to Cuba are permitted by the U.S. government, despite an economic embargo against the country. U.S. citizens provide more aid to Cuba than any other country -- nearly $120 million in the last three years.

And while Ali's mission may not have been political, two U.S. Congressmen on private "fact-finding missions" met with Cuban political leaders this week.


Congressman Joe Moakley, D-Massachusetts, leading a group of businessmen and academicians, said he believes Cuba could take steps toward democracy if Washington eased the pressure.

"I think we've been carrying the stick for the last 35 years and it hasn't worked," he said. "I think it's time we carry the carrot again." (60K AIFF sound or 60K WAV sound)

Moakley met with Cuban President Fidel Castro on Wednesday, and told reporters later that Castro seemed "flexible" regarding changes that would help him win over some members of Congress.


Congressman Bill Richardson, D- New Mexico, met with Castro and Roberto Robaina, Cuba's Foreign Minister, on his mission aimed at obtaining the extradition of U.S. fugitives in Cuba and a reduction in Cuban migration fees.

Richardson called his meeting with Castro -- which ended early Saturday morning -- "positive" and said that the Cuban president expressed a willingness to reduce the fees charged to Cubans migrating to the United States from the current $600 to $300.

While Ali and the U.S. Congressmen are using different methods, all share common aims: to try to knock out the long-standing feud between Cuba and the United States.



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