Lawmakers visiting Cuba urge State Dept to reopen US embassy in Havana


Cuba’s President Raul Castro held talks on Wednesday with a visiting U.S. congressional delegation in Havana. The democratic senators and representatives are on a fact-finding visit looking at the impact of U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy changes toward Cuba.

The U.S. Embassy in Havana is currently working with a skeleton staff. The majority of diplomats and their families were sent home last year following a series of unexplained health issues, allegedly caused by some form of unidentified sonic or other attack.

Before the incident, hundreds of Cubans lined up every day in front of the embassy to apply for visas to visit or emigrate to the United States.

Today, there is no one there. The consular office is closed, and Cubans must fly to Mexico or Colombia to apply.

At a news conference held inside the U.S. embassy on Wednesday, Jim McGovern, the U.S. Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts expressed concerns about the impact of the cutbacks.

“The fundamental value in the United States is supporting families. And making it virtually impossible for the average Cuban to be able to go to the United States, whether it is for a funeral or a wedding or to be able to be with their families I think betrays our values,” he said.

McGovern also raised the issue of human rights concerns in Washington, D.C. over Cuba, yet the cutbacks meant that there was no longer a human rights officer working at the embassy. The Trump Administration has also made it harder for U.S. citizens to visit Cuba. The State Department has issued a travel advisory urging Americans to reconsider traveling here on safety grounds.

The group’s leader Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont wants that warning lifted.

“I’ll tell you from a personal point of view. My wife and I have been married for over half a century. I wouldn’t endanger her. Anyway, she’s here with me. My 13-year-old granddaughter is precious to both of us, she’s here with us. If I thought there was a danger they wouldn’t be,” said Leahy.

Earlier, the delegation met with Cuba’s President Raul Castro, though the conversations remain private.

The group was made up of U.S. senators and representatives who all favor engagement with Cuba. But as Democrats, they have limited political influence with the Republican Party in control in Washington, DC.

The visit comes just weeks before a deadline in early March when the State Department must decide on the future of the embassy here, whether to maintain this much-reduced staffing or fully reopen it again. And with the mystery surrounding the health issues suffered by the diplomats still not resolved, the standoff is likely to continue.