A Washington snow storm closed down the federal government on Tuesday but House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and eight House Democrats are taking advantage of the weeklong congressional recess and heading to sunny Cuba – for official congressional business of course.
Pelosi is leading the first official House delegation to Cuba since the Obama Administration began normalizing relations with the island nation in December, rolling back travel and trade restrictions that were put into effect with the embargo established in the 1960’s.
“This delegation will work to advance the U.S.-Cuba relationship and build on the work done by many in the Congress over the years, especially with respect to agriculture and trade,” Pelosi said in a written statement on Tuesday.
Last month a delegation of a half a dozen Democrats – four Senators and two House members – were the first group from Capitol Hill to visit the island nation. Two of those lawmakers – Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland – traveled down to Havana in December to bring back Alan Gross, a U.S. contractor who was held by the Cuban government for five years. Gross’ release was negotiated as part of deal that included the return of three Cuban intelligence officials.
This House delegation is scheduled to meet with Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, some American officials at the U.S. Interests Section, and local community leaders.
When President Barack Obama announced the shift in U.S. relations with Cuba late last year he urged Congress to lift the embargo that’s has been in effect for over 50 years, but top congressional Republicans oppose ending it. Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, who chairs a Senate panel that would consider any nominee for a new U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, has already pledged he would block anyone from taking the post.
Along with Pelosi, eight House Democrats made the trip to Cuba this week: Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Colin Peterson of Minnesota, the Ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York, Rep. Steve Israel of New York, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, and Rep. David Ciccilline of Rhode Island.