A U.S. Congressional delegation led by Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy is in Cuba to discuss greater cooperation after President Obama embarked on a historic thawing of relations between the two countries after a decades-long chill.
"We are going this time to discuss our expectations, and the Cubans' expectations, for the normalization of relations," the Vermont senator said in a statement on Saturday. "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."
The delegation, all Democrats, includes Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, as well as Reps. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Peter Welch of Vermont. The six will meet with members of the Cuban government.
"We have all been to Cuba before, and we strongly support the president's new direction for our policy toward Cuba," Leahy said on Friday. "We are going this time to discuss our expectations, and the Cubans' expectations, for the normalization of relations."
"The delegation is scheduled to meet with Cuban government officials, Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino and ambassadors to Cuba from Mexico, Spain, Norway and Colombia. The statement said the delegation might meet with "representatives of Cuba's civil society," a term referring to those working for reform within the communist political system.
"It is the second trip to Cuba for Mr. Leahy in a month. In December, he traveled there with two congressmen around the time Mr. Obama made the surprise announcement about restoring diplomatic relations.
"On that trip, Mr. Leahy picked up Alan P. Gross, a former government contractor from Maryland who had been imprisoned there for five years. Mr. Gross was released as part of the agreement between the United States and Cuba that ended a half-century in which the countries had no formal ties."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office also announced that he would make a separate visit in hopes of drumming up business ties between the state and America's erstwhile Cold War adversary.