Three members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with ailing former Cuban President Fidel Castro on Tuesday, various press outlets are reporting.
CNN identified the three as CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) and Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio). The surprise meeting appears to be the first time the 82-year-old Castro has met with any American officials since he fell ill and had intestinal surgery in 2006.
Lee led a delegation of six other Members to Cuba this week in an attempt to promote better relations between the U.S. and the communist-led country. The group of lawmakers also supports relaxing travel and trade restrictions between the two countries. President Barack Obama promised during his 2008 campaign to loosen limits on travel for Cuban-Americans.
All seven Members also met with current Cuban President Raul Castro, the brother of Fidel Castro. Raul Castro took over when his brother, in declining health, resigned last year. Lee has said she made it clear that she was not bringing a message from Obama to the president, and Members of the delegation told the Associated Press that they discussed trade issues and cooperation in combating drug and human trafficking.
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) was quoted by the AP as saying that Raul Castro is “just the opposite of how he’s being portrayed in the media.—
“I think what really surprised me but also endeared to him was his keen sense of humor, his sense of history and his basic human qualities,— Rush said.
Though there is a growing consensus on Capitol Hill to ease travel restrictions on Cuba, many lawmakers — particularly those of Cuban-American descent — are still firmly opposed to the notion because of what they say are repeated human rights violations by Fidel and Raul Castro.
Besides Lee, Rush, Watt and Fudge, it appeared Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) and Mike Honda (D-Calif.) were on the trip as well.