US Senators Call for Full Embassy Ties With Cuba

US Senators Call for Full Embassy Ties With CubaUS Senators Call for Full Embassy Ties With Cuba

A trio of US senators visiting Cuba’s capital on Saturday called for the reopening of full embassies in Havana and Washington, under the recent US-Cuban diplomatic thaw.

After over five decades of Cold War bad blood, Cuban President Raul Castro and US President Barack Obama in December agreed to normalize relations, and the two leaders held groundbreaking talks on the sidelines of an April summit in Panama.

“We must open an embassy, a full embassy. We had full embassies years ago,” said Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, joined by colleagues Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican.

“Some in the Congress oppose opening it. I like to say that they are very much in the minority,” Leahy said, Reuters reported.

Leahy, a frequent visitor to Cuba in recent years, said Obama has been chipping away at restrictions on US travel to the large Caribbean island, and that he expected regularly scheduled commercial flights would not be far off.

At the moment, there are only regularly operating charters and the comprehensive US sanctions on Cuba remain in place. Legally, they can only be removed by the Republican-led US Congress.

“When the president is right I support him, and the president is right in this case,” Heller said. “One of the reasons it’s important to have a full mission for the US in Cuba is it can represent American interest in Cuba.”

The US and Cuba, which have had only diplomatic Interest Sections for years, have met several times on the full embassy issue. It is believed they could reopen as early as this month.

The White House sees better relations with Cuba as correcting an “out-of-date” policy and as a likely signature foreign policy achievement of Obama’s presidency.

Just last month, the US dropped Cuba from its blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism, removing yet another hurdle to normalization of ties.

 No Done Deal

As countries move to reopen embassies, analysts warn Republicans pose potential hurdle in agreement to end more than 50 years of hostility.

President Obama’s goal of restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba by reopening the US embassy next month and sending secretary of state John Kerry to Havana for a highly symbolic flag-raising ceremony could yet be thwarted in Congress, experts believe.

Analysts of US-Cuba politics say the approval of Congress could still be a major obstacle to any agreement, and doubt whether the Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives would approve the funding that would be necessary.

“Congress has to get on board,” said professor Bruce Bagley, an expert in Cuban affairs at the University of Miami’s department of international studies.

“I doubt sincerely we will see any big budgetary moves before President Obama leaves office, certainly not enough to open an entire embassy. It’s not clear it can happen unless Congress approves the money.”

Additionally, only Congress has the authority to lift the decades-old US trade embargo with Cuba, and must be notified by the state department at least 15 days in advance of any plan to upgrade the status of the US interests section building in Havana to that of a full-fledged embassy.

Marco Rubio, a Florida senator with Cuban parents who is seeking the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential election, is one of the most vocal opponents of the Obama policy.

He declared the decision to take Cuba off the terror blacklist as “terrible” and “a chilling message to enemies that the White House is no longer serious about calling terrorism by its proper name.”