WASHINGTON (CNN) - Two Republican congressmen ripped Congressional Black Caucus members for ignoring Cuba's "myriad gross human rights abuses" Thursday, saying this week's caucus trip to the island nation ignored the plight of political prisoners under the Castro regime.
They also urged the Obama administration to refrain from easing trade embargo or travel restrictions until the Cuban government releases all "prisoners of conscience," shows greater respect for freedom of religion and speech, and holds "free and fair" elections.
The call from Reps. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, came three days after the administration signaled that new rules on family travel and remittances to Cuba may be announced before President Obama goes to the Summit of the Americas on April 17.
It also followed statements from several Black Caucus members Tuesday arguing for consideration of an end to the trade embargo and other diplomatic restrictions placed on Cuba for five decades.
(CNN) - A Missouri congressman is denying former Cuban president Fidel Castro's claim that a member of the fact-finding delegation described the U.S. as "racist."
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, is one of the seven lawmakers who visited the island nation on a congressional delegation. Members of the CBC met with President Raul Castro and three of which met with brother, Fidel, at the home of the Cuban revolutionary leader.
In a statement released by the Cuban government, Fidel Castro praised the seven Democratic congressional delegates and alleges that one member said that despite President Obama's electoral victory, "America continues to be racist." The former Cuban president would not disclose the name of the delegate who allegedly made such statement.
Cleaver denied such a comment was ever made at a news conference following the delegation's return Tuesday night.
"That did not happen," Cleaver said
Rep. Barbara Lee, chairwoman of the CBC who led the delegation to Cuba, said she did "not have any comment with regard to that. I am not privy to anyone saying that in any meaning. I don't remember that."
Cuban-American Republican lawmakers blasted the CBC members' visits with Raul and Fidel Castro.
"Regardless of one's position on US Cuba policy, one would expect that any US official or Member of Congress visiting Cuba would have the courage to meet with members of Cuba's struggling independent civil society and raise concerns about the regime's systematic violation of human rights with Cuban officials," Florida Sen. Mel Martinez said in a statement issued Wednesday.
"To meet with the Castro brothers and not bring up the subject of their appalling human rights abuses is a shameful missed opportunity," Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also said in a statement.
(CNN) – "It's time to talk to Cuba."
That frank assessment from Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, has resonated loud and clear from the island of Cuba - 90 miles from the southernmost point of Florida - to the halls of Congress.
For the first time in nearly 50 years, relations between the two nations, which has a history steeped in tension, have seemed to ease a bit.
And that was no more apparent than this week, as a delegation from the Congressional Black Caucus traveled to the communist country on a fact-finding mission, with plans to deliver a report to the White House.
"Our purpose was to see if there were preconditions on the Cuban side. We heard that there were no preconditions," Lee said Wednesday. "And, in fact, we wanted to find out if they were interested. We have to remember that every country in Latin America, 15 countries, have normal relations with Cuba. ... We're the country which is isolated."
(CNN) – Three members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with Fidel Castro Tuesday in Cuba, marking the first time the former Cuban president has met with US leaders since in 2006.
A delegation of congressional Democrats, led by Barbara Lee of California, arrived in Cuba last week to discuss bilateral relations with and review new policies regarding trade and commerce between the US and island nation. The group of seven includes members of the CBS, Reps. Mel Watt of North Carolina, Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Bobby Rush of Illinois, and Laura Richardson on California, and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus member Mike Honda of California.
President Raul Castro, brother of Fidel, held talks with the six Congressional Black Caucus members of the delegation Monday in Havana.
The trip follows the introduction of a bill last week by a bipartisan group of senators to lift the travel ban on Cuba, maintaining the end of the travel restriction would advance democracy, promote human rights, and benefit US agriculture and small business groups. If passed, The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act would allow US citizens to travel freely to nation for the first time since 1962.
Cuban-born Republican Sen. Mel Martinez opposes the legislation, arguing that opening the communist-led island for tourist travel would perpetuate the repression of the "Castro regime."
But new changes to US Cuba travel policy could be coming soon. White House Adviser Jeffrey Davidson said Monday he would not be surprised if the Obama administration announced the easing of restrictions to the island before the Summit of the Americas on April 17. The move would fulfill a campaign promise by the then-presidential candidate to ease Cuban-American travel restrictions.
President Castro has said he is open to talks with the Obama administration.
Listen: CNN Radio on the new move in Congress to change U.S. relations with Cuba
(CNN) – Who is candidate No. 5 in the Gov. Blagojevich scandal? While specific names are not referenced in the affidavit disclosing six prospective candidates in the running for Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat, details emerged regarding one candidate in particular – No. 5. In the latest installment of CNN=Politics Daily, CNN’s Drew Griffin takes a close look at this candidate as he maintains he had no involvement in the wrongdoing.
Also: She attends numerous events per year, logs hundreds of hours of volunteer work, entertains visitors from all over the world, and takes up causes of her own. So should the nation’s first lady be on the White House payroll? CNN’s Alina Cho reports.
Plus: One of President-elect Barack Obama’s biggest campaign promises was to fix America’s broken infrastructure and create American jobs in the process. Is this the answer to heal the nation’s ongoing economic trouble? CNN’s Alan Chertoff has the story.
Finally: During his campaign, President-elect Obama said his policy toward Cuba will be guided by one-word: freedom. So, what will this mean in practice? Havana, Cuba Bureau Chief Morgan Neil has Thursday’s “Memo to the President.”
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HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) – Former Cuban President Fidel Castro says he is open to the idea of meeting with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama.
"With Obama, one can talk whenever he wants, because we're not preachers of violence or war," the communist leader wrote in an essay published Thursday on a state-run Web site. "He must be reminded that the carrot-and-stick theory cannot be applied in our country."
Friday's missive marked the second time in recent weeks that a Cuban leader has said he is open to meeting with Obama.
In the latest issue of The Nation, actor Sean Penn writes of his recent conversation in Havana with Raúl Castro, who took over as president this year from his ailing brother.
According to Penn, Raúl Castro told him, "Perhaps we could meet at Guantanamo. We must meet and begin to solve our problems, and at the end of the meeting, we could give the president a gift. ... We could send him home with the American flag that waves over Guantanamo Bay."
(CNN) – The Obama transition team declined comment Wednesday on a report that Cuban President Raul Castro might be interested in meeting with the president-elect at Guantanamo Bay, and had told an interviewer Cubans could "send [Obama] home with the American flag that waves over" the U.S. base there.
Asked whether he would be willing to visit Washington to speak with Obama, Castro instead suggested to actor Sean Penn Guantanamo Bay could serve as "neutral ground" for discussions. Castro also told Penn, in an interview published in The Nation, that the two leaders "must meet and begin to solve our problems."
Raul Castro’s brother, longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro, criticized Obama this spring for his position in favor of altering – but retaining – Washington’s nearly five-decade trade embargo on the island nation.
Obama came under fire from campaign rivals for his statement at a CNN/YouTube Democratic primary debate that he would be willing to meet without preconditions with Castro and other leaders hostile toward the United States.
–CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report