CUBA: Congressional Staff Delegation

From July 17-July 20, 2009, The Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) sponsored a trip to Cuba for a bi-partisan delegation of seven Senate Chiefs of Staff.

The CDA’s mission is to change U.S. policy toward the countries of the Americas by basing our relations on respect and fostering dialogue particularly with those governments and movements with which U.S. policy is at odds. The CDA runs the Freedom to Travel to Cuba campaign which has now brought close to seventy Members of the U.S. Congress and their professional staffs to Cuba since 2001. The CDA has a Treasury Department license and complies with applicable ethics laws and rules as required by Congress.

The delegation had an active schedule that included meetings with Cuban government officials, leaders of Cuba’s civil society, Cuban academics, eleven ambassadors from the European Union, foreign journalists, and with ordinary Cubans at home, buying groceries, at work in an agriculture cooperative, and in various cultural settings.

The lessons we learned on this trip centered primarily on Cuba’s economy, its reform process, political developments in Cuba, and the future of U.S. policy and U.S.-Cuba relations. In meetings with government officials and civil society, members of the delegation asked serious and candid questions about human rights and the willingness of Cuba’s government to make concessions in negotiations with the United States. In turn, we learned that many Cubans are uncertain about the future direction of U.S. policy, and want the U.S. to do more – consistent with its interests – to encourage Cuba to engage in economic reforms more quickly.

Our interviews were conducted on background – we describe sources of information but we don’t name names, to increase candor and respect individuals who wished to speak off the record. We benefited from the participation of our Senate staff members, who are extremely knowledgeable in areas such as agriculture policy and international trade. Their questions consistently elicited valuable information from the people we interviewed, and one published an op-ed about his experience in Cuba soon after his return.