US lawmakers, Cuban dissidents meet in Havana

HAVANA, Cuba, – A delegation of US lawmakers headed by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy met Sunday, January 18, with Cuban dissidents for the first time since the countries announced plans to normalize ties, an activist said.

The US lawmakers "wanted to hear our opinions, and they also gave their own opinions," Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban National Reconciliation and Human Rights Committee said.

About 15 opponents of the Americas' only communist government met for more than two hours with the American visitors, underlining the fact that dissidents have many different views and priorities.

"Among us, there are those who support (US-Cuban) rapprochement and others who do not," Sanchez said. 

In December, US President Barack Obama took the historic step to begin renewing ties with Havana and move to end a decades-old US policy of isolation.

Some critics of the US-Cuban effort to normalize diplomatic ties complain that Obama moved ahead without any pledge of specific change or action from President Raul Castro.

Among the dissidents attending the meeting with US lawmakers were blogger Yoani Sanchez, Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and Jose Daniel Ferrer, who leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba, active in the east.

The US delegation included six Democratic lawmakers, among them the party's number-two senator, Dick Durbin, and Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. They are due to meet with Cuban officials Monday, January 19.

Leahy played a key humanitarian role between the two nations last year.

He was involved in negotiations and elaborate plans that ultimately led to the wife of Gerardo Hernandez, one of three Cuban agents jailed in the US since 1998, becoming pregnant through artificial insemination while her husband was behind prison walls.

Hernandez and wife Adriana's baby was born January 6, just 20 days after the three agents were released and returned to the island as part of the bilateral rapprochement. – Rappler.com