The Senate's Democratic leader and a fellow farm state senator spoke strongly yesterday for lifting an embargo on food and drug sales to Cuba after returning from a visit that included a seven-hour meeting with Cuban President Fidel Castro on Saturday.
They said they told the Cuban president, however, that no further easing of the decades-long sanctions can be considered until Cuba improves its human rights record.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) made the visit nine days after the Senate voted 70-28 to lift restrictions on food and medical exports to Cuba. House action is pending.
Daschle and Dorgan, who returned Sunday, said Cuban officials told them the country imports almost $1 billion in food and medicine and that food imports could double in five years.
The senators also said Cuban doctors and hospital officials told them more than 200 pharmaceuticals are out of stock in Cuba.
"It serves neither the U.S.'s nor Cuba's interest to continue the embargo on vital supplies like food and medicine," Daschle said in a statement issued with Dorgan. Dorgan added: "To continue such an embargo only hurts U.S. family farmers, who are prevented from serving that market, and the citizens of Cuba, who need the food and medicine."
Efforts over the years by congressional opponents of the embargo normally have been defeated by embargo supporters. The Aug. 4 vote reflected congressional eagerness to ease the plight of U.S. farmers rather than a general softening of attitudes toward Castro's government.
The senators said they questioned Castro about human rights, freedom of the press and Cuba's economic situation.
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who was born in Cuba, criticized Daschle and Dorgan in a statement. They were "feasting with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro while the Cuban people are condemned to misery and oppression by the dictatorship," the congressman said.