U.S. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who is heading an official delegation of Democratic representatives visiting Havana, met with Cuba’s National Assembly vice president Ana María Mari Machado and other Cuban deputies in the first dialogue between members of congress and parliament since diplomatic relations were restored on Dec. 17.
“During the meeting, we exchanged views about the actions taken by President Obama and President Raúl Castro,” Pelosi said in a statement issued Thursday. “We agreed to continue our interparliamentary dialogue on areas of agreement and disagreement.”
Other Democratic members of Congress accompanying Pelosi are Eliot Engel (New York), Jim McGovern (Massachusetts), Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut), Collin Peterson (Minnesota), Anna Eshoo (California), Nydia Velázquez (New York), Steve Israel (New York) and David Cicilline (Rhode Island).
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In a joint press conference Thursday afternoon in Havana, all said they were in favor of taking Cuba off the list of countries that sponsor terrorism as well as lifting the embargo. They also pointed to agriculture and telecommunications as areas in which bilateral trade between the two countries can be developed.
During the visit, lawmakers also made contact with young entrepreneurs of the island’s emerging private sector and representatives of civil society.
The delegation was received on Wednesday by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez and Josefina Vidal, the director of the U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, in a gathering that lasted more than three hours. The exchange comes a week before the next formal round of talks between the two governments scheduled to begin on Feb. 27 in Washington.
“We discussed areas of interest to the United States and Cuba, and our delegation listened to their concerns, including the embargo, bank and credit financing,” Pelosi said. “We underscored our commitment to human rights in Cuba and agreed to build upon the historic opportunity before us to make progress in our relationship.”
After the U.S. delegation’s arrival on Tuesday, representatives also met with officials from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (USINT for its acronym in English). They also visited the Latin American School of Medicine, where some Americans are studying with scholarships provided by the Cuban government. In 2011, 40 Americans graduated from that institution.
Lawmakers also met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the highest-ranking representative of the Catholic church in Cuba, and various local leaders.
“On our first day in Cuba, we were greeted by the Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section, Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, and his team. We are proud of them and the U.S. Marines serving us there,” Pelosi said.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter @ngameztorres