HAVANA – A delegation of U.S. senators headed by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy is on a visit to Cuba, where its members plan to meet with government officials and religious leaders, among others.
The group, which besides Leahy includes fellow Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Nevada Republican Dean Heller, arrived Thursday night and will remain on the island for most of the weekend, a note from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana said.
Their program calls for visits to the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Havana, where they will give a press conference on Saturday, and will have meetings with officials of the Cuban government, representatives of the private sector, local religious leaders, ambassadors of other nations and more.
The delegation said in a note that it is focused on continuing progress toward normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba.
In recent months, visits of politicians, business owners and executives to Cuba have become habitual as part of the process of renewing relations that was announced last Dec. 17 by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro.
Leahy, who in recent years traveled several times to the island to mediate the release of jailed U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross (freed last December), led the first visit of a group of American lawmakers to Cuba last January after the thawing of diplomatic relations.
That mission took place just days before the official start in Havana of talks to normalize relations.
The first achievement of that process is expected to be the opening of embassies in Washington and Havana, still waiting for the date to be set even though the two countries have been in negotiations for five months.
The last delegation of U.S. congressmen traveled to Cuba on June 12, made up of Republican Senators Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Pat Roberts, and was received by Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.