Secretary of State John Kerry officially re-opened the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba this month, and Worcester's Jim McGovern was one of eight members of Congress who were there to see the flag raised. He has argued for years in favor of normalizing relations with Cuba.

“It was a great privilege to be there,” McGovern says. “I'm proud that our country is doing something that is good for the people of Cuba, and will also be good for us.”

Not everybody agrees. Ever since President Barack Obama announced in December a new openness in relations with Cuba, many have argue that the U.S. should not reward Cuba while it continues repressive treatment of its citizens. To McGovern's great frustration, that has kept Congress from lifting the trade embargo with Cuba.

Those skeptics also include most of the Republicans running for President, who are vowing to reverse the changes if they win the office.

Well aware of those threats, McGovern hopes for rapid engagement with Cuba, so that “this can't be reversed by the next President.” Within the next year, he wants to see “as many Americans travel to Cuba as possible, American businesses reach out to see places they can cooperate,” and on-the-ground activity by non-profit organizations.

His trip for the embassy opening, and a trip to Cuba with Nancy Pelosi and several others earlier this year, have convinced McGovern that the Cuban people are eager for change after decades of Castro rule. “They are hoping that their economy will get better, so that they can have a better life,” he says.

“What Secretary of State Kerry did opening the embassy, it signaled that we're going to talk to one another like grown-ups,” McGovern says – contrasting with the results of war in Iraq, which he visited in July, and comparing with the Iran nuclear treaty currently pending Congressional approval. “Some of our greatest successes over the years have been through diplomacy.”

Summer travel plans

Many other members of Congress are traveling abroad this month, taking advantage of the summer recess to visit far-flung places and meeting world leaders.

Seth Moulton and Katherine Clark of Massachusetts flew to Israel on a trip arranged every two years for new members by the American Israel Education Foundation (which is affiliated with AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group.)

The packed schedule included a roughly one-hour meeting with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a fierce opponent of the Iran nuclear agreement that Congress will vote on in September. Moulton announced his support for the Iran nuclear deal just before leaving, making him the only one on the trip openly favoring that agreement during that meeting, according to a Moulton spokesperson.

David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Chellie Pingree of Maine traveled to Ukraine, on a trip led by Pelosi, to meet with officials about the ongoing Crimean crisis. They also met with U.S. military leaders in Italy.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, also of Rhode Island, traveled with two Republicans – John McCain of Arizona and John Barasso of Wyoming – for a series of security and defense meetings in Norway, Sweden, and Estonia. He also worked in meetings on his favorite topic, climate change, and squeezed in a visit with a visit with U.S. troops in Latvia.

And this week, Joe Kennedy III heads to Africa with a group attending the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum, in Gabon. He will also visit Ethiopia and Rwanda, where he says Massachusetts companies have increasing opportunities for economic partnerships in health care, information technology, and life sciences.

Kennedy will also make his first trip to Cape Verde; his district, which includes Taunton, has one of the largest concentrations of Cape Verdeans in the U.S., with even more in neighboring towns.

“Cape Verde's a really great opportunity for companies looking for a foothold in Africa,” Kennedy says.

Unfortunately for Hill watchers, Kennedy confirms that he most likely won't announce his much-awaited decision on the Iran deal until after he returns from Africa.

Thinking regionally
 

Closer to home, Kennedy has begun a vocal push for regional economic development between Southeastern Massachusetts communities and Rhode Island.

For cities in his district such as Attleboro, Fall River, and New Bedford, “the initial look is to Boston, not T.F. Green,” Kennedy says, referring to the airport in Warwick, Rhode Island. While he absolutely wants a rail link connecting the South Coast to Boston, he points out “we don't need high-speed connections from Fall River to Providence.”

It's an easy sell in theory: the region has a combined workforce of around 800,000, with top-notch colleges, an international airport, Amtrak connections, and other assets that have seldom connected well with one another – in large part because of the separation of interests represented by the state line.

Successful cooperation over the past decade or so on the I-91 “knowledge corridor” between Springfield and Hartford may have shown the way for political leaders, or so Kennedy hopes. It's far from clear that the South Coast and Rhode Island are ready to follow suit. But Kennedy counts Cicilline – the former mayor of Providence – as a key partner in the effort. And, he says that a meeting with Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo was promising, and a conversation with Charlie Baker suggested interest in at least pursuing further study of the possibilities.

Social media picture of the week

August recess also allowed the delegations to travel closer to home. Maine Senator Susan Collins posted this photo of herself picking blueberries at Cold Stream Pond.