Published April 07, 2009
WASHINGTON -- Former Cuban President Fidel Castro was "very engaging, very energetic," U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, said following a congressional delegation's meeting with the ailing revolutionary.
The delegation that traveled to Cuba featured six members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., and they returned to Washington late Tuesday afternoon and urged the United States government to begin steps to alter its relationship with Cuba.
"For the past 50 years, the United States has been swimming in the Caribbean Sea of delusion," said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who described the United States as "the isolated nation" compared to European countries which have diplomatic ties with Havana.
"This is the dawning of a new day," Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., declared. "Fifty years of foolishness is over. It's time for the children to sit in the corner and the adults to take over."
Rush was one of three members of the delegation to meet with Fidel Castro. A meeting with his brother, Cuban leader Raul Castro, took place Monday.
Tuesday afternoon, the Cuban government released a statement that it indicated was Fidel Castro's assessment of a session he had with the lawmakers. In the statement, Castro said that one of the Members of Congress told him that the United States should "apologize" to Cuba. And another lawmaker told the former leader that despite the victory by President Obama, U.S. society is still "racist."
All members of the delegation denied that those two exchanges took place during their time with Fidel Castro.
The lawmakers encouraged the U.S. to launch a dialogue with Cuba and relieve trade and modify a 47-year-old American trade embargo against the island nation.
"You can't not talk to people and expect to get a desirable result," said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., who added that the embargo "was not effective."
Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., was one of three lawmakers who requested and met with Fidel Castro. She described him as alert and said the former Cuban dictator "looked directly into our eyes, quite aware of what was happening. He said to us, 'how can we help President Obama?'"
Rush indicated that it was time for Washington to remove Cuba from the list of terrorist nations. Rush dismissed Cuba as a security threat to the United States. He said that when he was a member of the Black Panthers in the 1960s, former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover warned that his organization as "the number one threat to national security.
"So I know foolhardy approaches and asinine labels when I see them, " said Rush. "American people need to be told the truth and they have been lied to for too long about the threat from Cuba."
Both Rep. Rush, an ordained Baptist minister, and Rep. Cleaver, a Methodist pastor, delivered sermons at churches while in Cuba.
The CBC members conceded there were limited discussions about human rights abuses in Cuba.
"We didn't talk about it much," said Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio. "You don't go into someone's house and insult them."
But Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who led the delegation said that Raul Castro indicated to her that "everything's on the table."
"Two sovereign nations should be able to sit down and talk about their differences, " Lee said.
The U.S. Air Force flew the Congressional Black Caucus delegation directly to Havana and not the American military base at Guantanamo Bay. The Air Force then gave each lawmaker a pin featuring adjoining American and Cuban flags to help identify them as members of the delegation.
FOX News' Mosheh Oinounou contributed to this report.