WASHINGTON — A Massachusetts-heavy delegation of politicians, businesses, and colleges returned from Cuba Wednesday, after a days-long trip highlighted the possibility of new economic and cultural ties.
Members of the group, which included Representatives Jim McGovern of Worcester and Seth Moulton of Salem, met with Cuban President Raul Castro and hosted exchanges between biomedical experts from America and Cuba.
On parts of the trip, the Bay State politicians were accompanied by representatives of Northeastern University, Harvard Medical School, UMass Medical School, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the Massachusetts Biotech Council.
The goal of the trip, McGovern and Moulton said, was to connect American institutions with their Cuban counterparts and encourage exchanges that had been barred for decades.
“With the historic changes down here, there are many more opportunities and a lot of US companies and academic institutions and research institutions feel more comfortable doing the outreach and making those relationships,” McGovern said from Cuba Wednesday afternoon.
Moulton praised former president Barack Obama’s decision to expand diplomatic relations with Cuba. He and McGovern said they would like to see Congress go even further, removing the remaining travel restrictions and lifting the current trade embargo.
“We always think of the embargo in terms of how it hurts Cubans. But these visits to these [Cuban] biotech facilities opened my eyes to how the embargo is hurting Americans, as well,” Moulton said. “Cuba is the leader in treating the Zika virus. Cuba has a vaccine for lung cancer. And when you’re sitting next to a professor from Harvard Medical School and they say, ‘Wow — this is really significant,’ you realize that opening our doors to Cuba will not just help the Cuban people but help all of us, as well.”
Congress, however, is unlikely to adopt their desired policies in the short term, given that Republicans control Capitol Hill and the White House. Also, in recent weeks, President Trump has aligned himself with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American who was fiercely against Obama’s decision to expand diplomatic ties.
“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” Trump tweeted in late November.
McGovern, who has made advocating for improved Cuba-US relations a tenet of his time in Congress, said he thinks Trump would struggle to reverse the Obama policy.
“It would be difficult to put the genie back in the bottle,” McGovern said. “Obama made a major step forward, and it’s resonating here. You can feel it when you talk to Cuban people on the street, and you can feel it when you meet with the government.”
Critics of the Cuban government, including Rubio, say America should continue its embargo and shun the nation of 11 million until the island’s communist government makes more democratic reforms and acknowledges its history of human rights abuses.
Moulton said the island and its government, spurred by America's recent openness, are already beginning to change.
“It’s more change in a few months of an open policy than we saw in six decades of the embargo,” Moulton said. “And change means furthering the American interests.”
Asked for specifics, Moulton pointed to growth in the country’s free-market economy, new development, and improved Internet access.