Meeks part of U.S. delegation to Cuba


In December of 2014, President Barack Obama ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba; relations that were severed after Communist Fidel Castro and his rebel army overthrew the U.S.-supported government of Fulgencio Batista at the end of 1959.

In the intervening time, the island nation that is 90 miles from the Florida coast, has suffered economic hardships despite at one time being aligned with the Soviet Union.

For the first time in nearly 90 years a sitting U.S. president traveled to Cuba, when Air Force One touched down on March 20 for a three-day visit, which incorporated Obama’s third bilateral meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, a state dinner and attendance at a baseball game between the Cuban National team and the major league Tampa Bay Rays. Calvin Coolidge was the last U.S. leader to visit. He entered Havana Harbor on a battleship in 1928.

Herald: How did you get chosen to accompany the president?

Meeks: “I’ve been fighting for a change in our Cuban policy for years (Meeks has been in office since 1998) and in 2009, when President Obama took office I spoke with Ben Rhodes (deputy national security advisor to the president) and he told me to “keep the pressure on the administration.’”

Herald: What were your impressions of Cuba with the reopening of relations between the two nations?

Meeks: “The people are hopeful of better relations and the ending of Cold War policies. We talked to some of the younger people who are looking for better Internet service and cell phone communication and more investment from the rest of the world. The country is a throwback to 1959 as they have no access to materials. They are more open as they understand that President Obama is not advocating for regime change.”

Herald: How does this reopening of relations benefit both countries?

Meeks: “It benefits American businesses who want to trade and do business here and it will help create jobs in the agricultural field, for hotels as airlines fly to Cuba. It will also be less of a hassle for Cuban-Americans to see their families. On top of that it will help bring our neighbors in both South and North America closer together.”

The congressman said that the New York City area is home to the second largest Cuban American population in the U.S., with southern Florida being the largest.
Herald: What do you say to the Cubans who fled Cuba when Castro came to power and their families here who think Cuba doesn’t deserved a relationship with the U.S. based on its human rights record?

“In 55 years nothing has changed and to improve conditions and the government for the Cuban people you better try something different, and for individuals who care for Cuba that has started to change.”