Black Caucus to Obama: Lift Cuba Embargo


ABC News' Rick Klein reports:

Fresh off a trip to Cuba that included a visit with both Fidel and Raul Castro, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are lobbying President Obama to lift the nation's longstanding Cuba embargo, and open up lines of communication with the Castros.

Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., said on's "Top Line" today that she and her colleagues want a complete elimination of the embargo first instituted by the Kennedy administration.

Click here to watch our interview with Richardson.

Richardson said she welcomes the Obama administration's planned loosening of travel and financial restrictions impacting those with relatives in Cuba -- but said she wants the president to go further.

"The real big steps that we have to take is looking at the embargo, and the question is, has the embargo worked for 50 years?" said Richardson, who serves on the House Homeland Security Committee. "What I can tell you is, [from] when I went there, every country is working with Cuba except the United States. And my question to you is, what has isolation gotten us in the last 10 years when we've isolated ourselves from other countries?"

Such a move would fit with the president's efforts to remake America's image, she said. Richardson said her visit to Cuba only confirmed her sentiments regarding the need to fundamentally change the relationship between Cuba and the United States.

"You know President Obama just two days ago when he was in Turkey, he talked about turning the page," Richardson said. "The key, I think, to having progress is if you're actually talking to someone. Currently over the 50 years, maybe there has been limited progress in that area, so are we just gonna continue not to talk for another 50 years?"

"So, the question is, we can continue not to talk and not to have any progress, or we can sit down and maybe through those dialogues that they will see the benefits of what we've gained, how we operate in this country, and as we've seen successes in other countries, I believe we would see the same in Cuba."

The White House has signaled that it will make changes to Cuba policies in advance of this month's Summit of the Americas, specifically to make it easier for those with family on the island nation to travel thereand send money to relatives.

Congress is also expected to consider a measure that would allow all Americans to travel freely to and from Cuba.

But the president has not indicated a willingness to lift the US trade embargo against Cuba, a cornerstone of American foreign policy toward one of the nation's closest neighbors for 47 years.

The Castro regime's fiercest critics in Congress are promising to fight any effort to ease the terms of the embargo, until or unless the Cuban government first commits to reforms such as releasing political prisoners and scheduling democratic elections.

"The position on the embargo is principle-driven . . .  We should not be providing any type of unilateral concessions to that regime," Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both Florida Republicans, said in a joint statement provided to ABC News.

Of their colleagues' trip to Cuba, they added: "It's truly unfortunate that they did not dedicate any portion of the trip to meeting with the victims of repressions in Cuba, or those who are advocating for human rights and a democratic transition."

Those promising to fight changes in Cuba policy include some prominent Democrats.

"Our great nation should always stand for human freedom and democracy and against underwriting regimes that oppress, suppress and murder," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the son of Cuban immigrants and head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said last week after fellow senators introduced legislation that would end the travel ban.

But members of the Congressional Black Caucus say they're looking to the new administration to revamp policies of isolation that they view as outdated.

"We are convinced based on the meetings which were held, that the Cubans do want dialogue, they do want talks, and they do want normal relations with USA, and I believe that its in the US best interest to do that," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., the caucus' chairwoman, said Tuesday, after she and her colleagues returned from their trip to Cuba.

"We think we have this window of opportunity now with the president who is seeking a new way in the world and a new direction, and we're in the process of reshaping our image in the world. And where better to do that than 90 miles off the shore of America," she added.

Fidel Castro's visit with US lawmakers was the first time he had such a meeting since the former president fell ill in 2006.

"He had a very modest home," Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., said Tuesday. "And we were met at the front door by his lovely wife. And she was a very warm person. So it was almost like visiting an old friend."

Richardson told us that Fidel Castro struck her as mentally sharp.

"I mean, he was a little older, but he stood up, he greeted us, he knew my name, he knew my district, he knew issues that were pertinent to my area, and imagine, this meeting was only set up with less than 10 hours -- so I mean clearly he wasn't briefed all night," she said. "So, he had a great sense of humor, and he talked about being in America. He talked about the fact that he almost went to Harvard. . . .  We met his wife. A lot of people don't even know the history of Fidel and his family and his five sons. So, he was in very good health, to answer the question."

Also on today's program, we chatted with Ana Marie Cox, of Air America and The Daily Beast, about the latest in politics -- including the new job for Kal "Kumar" Penn in the Obama White House.

Click here for our interview with Ana Marie Cox.

ABC News' Jennifer Bost, Dean Norland and David Chalian contributed to this report.

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