Burlington Free Press: VT lawmakers call to end Cuban economic embargo
End the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, said Vermont Democrats Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch, speaking from Havana on Monday afternoon before a state dinner.
President Barack Obama also called for an end to the 54-year ban, in a joint news conference Monday with Cuban President Raul Castro. Obama added that how Cuba addresses human-rights concerns will influence how quickly Congress ends the sanctions.
Welch said the House would vote overwhelmingly to lift the blockade if the issue were to come to the floor. Leahy said the Senate would do the same.
Obama’s visit to Cuba marks the first time a U.S. president has been to the country in 88 years. The U.S. delegation included 11 CEOs and 39 members of Congress.
Leahy and Welch, in a conference call with reporters, said ending the embargo would help improve human rights in Cuba.
“The impact of this embargo is on average Cubans,” Welch said, adding that sanctions have failed to pressure Castro to improve his human-rights record.
Both Vermont lawmakers said there is a lot that America can learn from Cuba, citing the country’s medical system, low infant mortality rate and high literacy rate.
Welch said the U.S. could learn from Cuba’s primary care system, which he called one of the country’s strengths.
Leahy also spoke about the economic possibilities that ending the embargo could bring Americans. Vermont’s renewable-energy industry could see significant opportunities in Cuba, and the senator said he planned to bring a trade mission of Vermonters to Cuba early next year.
Welch added that Cuba currently buys dairy from New Zealand. Vermont, he said, is much closer and could begin exporting its dairy to the island nation.
Despite some tense moments between Obama and Castro, Leahy said the U.S. delegation was received warmly by the Cuban people.
“When we got off Air Force One, it was raining like mad,” Leahy said. He was one of four members of Congress who rode on the president’s plane instead of in a separate aircraft for the large congressional delegation. “People were standing in the rain waving American and Cuban flags and cheering.”
Leahy has long advocated for the opening of relations with Cuba. Both he and Welch have sponsored legislation to lift the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba. Leahy has visited about eight times. This is Welch’s third trip.
The Vermont senator said he was excited to be on the historic trip and see something he has wanted for so long finally happen.
“When I went to bed last night, I was about as happy as I’d been in a long long time,” he said. Leahy added that he and his wife, Marcelle, were hoping to visit Cuba to go scuba diving.