By Rogelio del Rio
After half a century of ever-widening political differences, Cuba and the United States appear to have reached an opportune moment for rapprochement based on respect and mutual benefit.
The visit by seven Democratic lawmakers from the US Congress earlier this week indicated that it is possible to bring an end to the split that began when Cuba's revolution triumphed in 1959.
Barbara Lee, who came to Havana as head of the group from the Black Caucus (an African-American organization founded in the US Congress in 1969), said, "it is time to seek a new path ... to seek dialogue with Cuba."
"Cubans want a dialogue. They want to speak and they want a normal relationship with the United States," she told reporters in Washington, after her return from Cuba on Tuesday. "I believe that is the best thing for the United States as well."
During her stay on the Caribbean's largest island, the US lawmakers had a four and a half hour meeting with leader Raul Castro, 77, who repeated his willingness to speak to the government of US President Barack Obama and seek a normalization of the bilateral relationship.
It was Castro's first meeting with US legislators since taking power in Cuba in February last year.
A day later, Lee and her two colleagues, Laura Richardson and Bobby Rush, had a two hour meeting with Fidel Castro, 82, who stepped down as the nation's leader last year. Fidel later described this meeting as "magnificent."
On Monday, in another of his series of articles titled "Reflections of the Commander in Chief", Fidel said that Cuba has no fears about dialogue with the United States, and applauded a suggestion by Richard Lugar, a senator from the opposition Republican Party, that Obama change US policy towards the island and name a special envoy for such talks.
Obama, who took office in January, has pledged to ease the 47-year US trade embargo against Cuba and seek a dialogue with its leaders.
In March, Obama signed a measure into law that temporarily relaxed rules on Cuban-Americans traveling to the island as well as sending medicine and food there.
During his campaign for presidency, Obama had already said he sought a "new strategy" towards the island. Last week, the US Senate presented a bill to end travel restrictions on Cuba, which currently apply to all US citizens.
Some analysts believe that Obama might announce a permanent lifting of restrictions on Cuban-Americans as soon as next week, ahead of his participation in the upcoming Americas Summit, which runs from April 17 to April 19 in Trinidad and Tobago.
Even though some US politicians consider part of the restrictions should be maintained to "keep up pressure" on reforms in Cuba, many believe the current momentum to improve US-Cuban ties is unstoppable.
Major US newspapers including The Washington Post, The New York Times and La Opinion have all said in editorials that the blockade has failed to produce desired results and was a relic of the Cold War that should be eliminated.
It is widely believed now that US citizens should have the right to travel to Cuba and do business there. Trade, anti-drug operations and illegal migration control represent some possible areas of common benefit.
However, obstacles remain. Even though Barbara Lee said "the time has come to talk with Cuba and that time is now," she also admitted that after 50 years of confrontation, normalization would be slow and painful.
(Xinhua News Agency April 10, 2009)