HAVANA – A U.S. Congressional delegation wrapped its five-day visit to Cuba Wednesday, after meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro.
"I found him animated, involved," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, who lead the delegation.
Leahy further described the conversation with the outgoing Cuban president as candid, but wouldn’t elaborate on the exchange specifically on the topic of the looming presidential transition set to take place in Cuba on April 19.
"I think he felt that was just for us and so I’m not going to go onto what he said about the transition," Leahy said. "We had a good give and take."
The delegation, all members of the Democratic Party, urged the Cuban government to end its 13% tax Americans get charged when dollars are exchanged.
On the issue of the double currency system in Cuba, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, said Cuban officials "repeatedly said this was the year to get it done, to unify the currency."
The U.S. lawmakers met with Cuba entrepreneurs, but when asked if they met with members of the opposition, they didn’t answer only added later during the press conference the U.S. Embassy in Cuba currently doesn’t have a human rights officer after 60 percent of its personnel was pulled months after the State Department first reported 24 of its workers were attacked repeatedly.
"I feel it’s absolutely essential that we get our embassy back up to full staffing," Leahy said.
The group was in agreement it was a great mistake for the U.S. government to cut back on diplomatic personnel in Cuba.
"I believe we need to put our best minds on this and invite and expect the hosts to participate in getting this resolved so that our two countries can progress and move forward together," Wyden said.
"I have no idea what happened to our diplomats here," said Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. "U.S. agencies who are investigating this matter, who I met with also, don’t seem to have clue what happened here. And we may never know what happened."
McGovern reminded the press Cuba is changing and it’s regrettable U.S. engagement is limited during a historic presidential transition, what he called a generational shift.
The members of Congress were also highly critical of the State Department for issuing a warning, they argue has kept Americans from visiting the island nation.
Leahy and others added they have always felt safe in Cuba.
"There are so many things that are put on hold by this and nobody benefits by that," Leahy said.
These members also took part in the trip: Rep. Susan Davis, democrat of California; Rep. Kathy Castor, democrat of Florida.
Castor did not attend Wednesday’s press conference.