Morning Read: In Cuba, Leahy and Welch May Meet With Castro | Off Message

Morning Read: In Cuba, Leahy and Welch May Meet With Castro

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A month after President Obama announced plans to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) are spending the holiday weekend in Havana meeting with top Cuban officials and dissidents.

According to the Associated Press, those meetings could include a sit-down Monday with President Raul Castro. Leahy spokesman David Carle declined to corroborate the report Monday morning, telling Seven Days that the delegation's itinerary remains "tentative."

Leahy, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, is a longtime champion of restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba. He and a top staffer, Norwich native Tim Rieser, were widely credited with playing a major role in freeing imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross last month — in part, by helping a Cuban spy conceive a child through artificial insemination. Leahy flew to Cuba in December to accompany Gross home.

This time around, Leahy is leading a six-member delegation on a three-day trip to Cuba. In addition to Welch, he is joined by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

"We have all been to Cuba before, and we strongly support the president's new direction for our policy toward Cuba," Leahy said in a written statement released late last week. "We are going this time to discuss our expectations, and the Cubans' expectations, for the normalization of relations. We want to explore opportunities for greater cooperation, and to encourage Cuban officials to address issues of real concern to the American people and to their representatives in Congress."

According to Agence France-Presse, the delegation met with roughly 15 Cuban dissidents in Havana on Sunday:

The US lawmakers "wanted to hear our opinions, and they also gave their own opinions," Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban National Reconciliation and Human Rights Committee said.
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Among the dissidents attending the meeting with US lawmakers were blogger Yoani Sanchez, Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and Jose Daniel Ferrer, who leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba, active in the east.
The delegation is scheduled to return to Washington, D.C., Monday night.


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