Friday, April 03, 2009

Mission to Cuba

This week, I joined the Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-9), and a bipartisan host of Members to introduce H.R. 874, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act. The bill calls for lifting of the ban on travel to Cuba from the United States.

In a sign of thawing relations and at the invitation of the Cuban government, I have joined six of my colleagues on a mission to Cuba. I left Andrews Air Force base this morning and landed in Havana early this afternoon.

Cuba is the only country in the world to which our government bans travel. It has enforced this ban for 46 years. We have an ineffective and incredibly disjointed policy toward Cuba, born of a different era and incredibly outdated today.

Americans can legally visit North Korea and Iran, Vietnam and China, but Cuba, which lies a mere 90 miles from U.S. shores is off limits. This policy has hurt both our nations for too long.America has long recognized that its people and commerce are our best diplomats. Cuba should be no exception.

This mission was encouraged by President Obama and upon returning from this fact-finding mission, we have been asked to deliver a report to the White House and Secretary of State. I look forward to both speaking with the President and you about the mission when I return next week.

While there is some benefit to the Fifth District in opening up ties with Cuba, this mission is more in my role as Vice-Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. There are certainly many upsides for our community as my colleagues entrust me with more responsibilities, but there is one significant downside. More responsibility means less time in the District.

Technology provides some great opportunities, like this newsletter and the telephone town hall, to stay in touch with you and deal with the increasing demands of a leadership role. But nothing replaces face to face contact, and I certainly know that.

I know you will be patient and understand as I try to adjust to my changing role. For that I thank you.