President Obama, speaking in Havana yesterday, pledged to "bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas" by beginning to normalize relations with the communist nation.
If Obama was there to bury a hatchet, Congressman Jim McGovern was right there beside him with a shovel. McGovern—who accompanied Obama on the trip—has been a proponent of easing U.S.-Cuba tensions for years. He joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan to discuss the trip and what's next for relations between the two nations.
On his first visit to Cuba and his history fighting to normalize relations
MCGOVERN: My first visit was in 1979, when I was a college student, and I thought back then—and even before I first visited—that our policy didn’t make any sense. We deal with China, we deal with Russia, we deal with Vietnam, we deal with a whole range of countries with different systems than we do, different values than we do, and who have difficult human rights records. We deal with them. Yet for some reason, with regard to Cuba, we’ve maintained this policy of isolation for 50 years that has been misguided, has done nothing to help the Cuban people, has done nothing to help enhance US national security interests. It’s time for a change. It was an embarrassing policy and I wanted it changed. I worked for many, many, years trying to get it changed. I didn’t quite frankly think I’d be alive to see it at the rate we’ve been going, but President Obama—to his credit—decided to change the policy, and I think he deserves a lot of praise. He had a lot of guts to do it. It was the right thing to do. Now we need congress to stand up to the plate and lift the travel restrictions, lift the embargo.
It was an embarrassing policy and I wanted it changed. I worked for many, many, years trying to get it changed. I didn't quite frankly think I'd be alive to see it at the rate we've been going.
On Congress's role in moving relations with Cuba even further
MCGOVERN: One of the reasons why I think the president's visit was important, especially at this time when there’s still some time left in his administration, is he can help build pressure within the business community in particular to get Congress to do something. The critics of the president's policy say we shouldn’t do anything until there’s more democracy in Cuba. My response is: we ought to have more democracy in the United States Congress. I think the votes are here. I think the votes are here in a bipartisan way to overturn the travel restrictions and maybe even overturn the economic embargo. I really do. There were Republicans who went on the trip with us as well. It wasn’t just Democrats."
On how America's Cuba policy has damaged its relationship with other countries in Latin America
MCGOVERN: Our policy has had a diminishing role all throughout Latin America. Don’t forget, before President Obama said we would normalize diplomatic relations the summit of Americas was about to be cancelled becuS A WHOLE range of latin American countries including many of our closest allies said they didn’t want to participate in a summit without Cuba. Again, it’s time."
Jim McGovern is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Massachusetts's 2nd district. To hear more from McGovern, tune in above. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.