DeLauro on trip to Cuba to try to bolster relations with U.S.

Connecticut U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, left, flanked by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. (File photo) File Photo

Connecticut U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, left, flanked by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. (File photo)

Washington – Rep. Rosa DeLauro has left the bitter New England cold for Havana as part of a high-level delegation of congressional Democrats hoping to build on President Obama’s recent initiatives towards Cuba.

The nine-member delegation, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, will meet with Cuban government officials, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino — the highest-ranking Roman Catholic official in Cuba — and officials at the U.S. Interest Section. The U.S. Interest Section has served as the U.S. mission in Cuba since full diplomatic relations were severed more than 50 years ago and an economic embargo imposed.

“This delegation travels to Cuba in friendship and to build upon the announcement of U.S. normalization of relations and other initiatives announced by President Obama,” Pelosi said. “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.”

In December, Obama moved to make travel to Cuba easier for certain categories of Americans who are allowed by the embargo to spend money on visits to the island. Those groups include amateur athletes, religious groups and others involved in “purposeful travel.” The embargo continues to bar tourism trips to Cuba.

Obama also moved to expand the types of U.S. goods that could be sold to the Cuban government, which had been restricted largely to food, agriculture products and medicines, to include construction material and telecommunication equipment.

But some lawmakers, including DeLauro, D-3rd District, who has visited Cuba before, want a complete end to the embargo.

She had scheduled a briefing on the new travel and business regulations for Connecticut businesses earlier this month that included senior administration officials from the U.S. Treasury Department and the Commerce Department, but the event was postponed because of bad weather.

The delegation may meet with some dissidents, but that was unclear in the release form Pelosi’s office announcing the trip.

It said the congressional delegation planned to meet with “local community leaders and representatives,” and Pelosi’s office could not confirm those would include political dissidents.

Not all Democratic lawmakers visiting Cuba share DeLauro’s view of the embargo.

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, for instance, is an embargo supporter.

“I believe that Congress must see a greater political opening in Cuba before lifting the embargo,” Engle said when Obama announced his new Cuba policy.

Other Democrats on the trip are David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Steve Israel of New York, Anna Eshoo of California, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Nydia Velázquez of New York and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.