WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a committee hearing on the Administration’s shift in policy toward Cuba:
“Thank you very much, Chairman Royce, let me thank you firstly for calling this hearing. As a former Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, I’ve followed Cuba closely for many years, have worked with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and others, trying to bring freedom to Cuba.
“Let me also thank our witnesses for their testimony today, and for their dedicated service to our country. Thank you, three of you, for coming.
“Firstly and foremost, I am delighted that Alan Gross is finally home after five long years. I first met his wife Judy back in December of 2009. One of my sons went to school with one of the Gross’s children, so I’ve always felt a connection to the Gross family. Alan’s release from prison was long overdue, and I am overjoyed that he has been reunited with his family.
“As we all know, President Obama announced several major changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba. But this is not the end of the story. The onus is now on the Cuban government to respond by moving forward with real reform.
“And what exactly does this mean?
“To me it means free and fair elections, respect for the rule of law, an independent press, and upholding the values enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. It also means releasing each and every political prisoner currently jailed in Cuba and ending the harassment of political activists.
“We want to see the formation of political pluralism there. Only then will we be comfortable with Cuba moving along the path to democracy.
“President Obama has the authority to reestablish relations with Cuba and to make the regulatory changes that he announced on December 17th. At the same time, however, Congress has the authority to maintain or eliminate the trade embargo on Cuba. And again, normalizing relations with Cuba cannot be a one-way street; it cannot be. It’s got to be give and take on both sides. And at this time, I believe that Congress must see a greater political opening in Cuba before lifting the embargo.
“Last month, Chairman Royce and I sent a letter to Secretary Kerry. We asked for the names of the 53 political prisoners the Cuban government committed to releasing. I was very grateful for Secretary Kerry’s rapid response to our letter with a full list of the released prisoners.
“To be sure, the release of these 53 prisoners was a very positive step. Unfortunately, a few of these prisoners were subsequently detained because of their political activism. While these individuals are no longer in jail, we must be vigilant in ensuring their safety. I urge the State Department to use its talks with Cuban officials to continue pushing for the release of all political prisoners.
“Finally, let me say that the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama presents an important opportunity for all of the countries in the region. We will be eager to hear from Cuban civil society leaders along with other independent civil society leaders from throughout the Americas. I hope to be there, and I hope that we’ll have a delegation, a bipartisan delegation, going there. I urge the Panamanian government and all regional leaders to be as open and transparent as possible in allowing for civil society participation at the summit.
“And one request before I close, Mr. Chairman. I ask unanimous consent to submit for the record, two statements: one on behalf of Alan Gross, and the second from our colleague and Representative Barbara Lee, a former Foreign Affairs Committee member, along with her questions for the record.
“Thank you Mr. Chairman. I’d like to close again by thanking our witnesses for being here today. I look forward to hearing from each of you. And thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing.”
Watch Rep. Engel's opening statement here