Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico visited Cuba this week and said that bipartisan support for lifting the travel ban to the country and possibly the economic embargo is close to occurring.
Udall led the visit to Cuba for a group of Democratic legislators, including Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, and Rep. John Larson of Connecticut.
The congressmen's visit occurred around the same time representatives from the U.S. and Cuba met to discuss reopening embassies in each other's countries for the first time in 54 years, Huffington Post reports.
There have been a number of bills proposed recently to end the travel ban to Cuba, as well as to promote agricultural sales and telecommunications.
"There's growing bipartisan support in the Senate for all of these bills," Udall said in Havana, Cuba, to reporters. "Today in the Foreign Relations Committee a majority of Democrats and Republicans support dropping the travel ban. We're at a point where the bipartisan support is building.”
In December, President Obama removed Cuba from the list of countries the U.S. views as state sponsors of terrorism. He also relaxed restrictions on travel to the country making it easier for Americans with authorization to visit Cuba. Tourism, however, remains banned.
Udall thinks the embargo, and subsequently the travel ban, may soon end.
Upon the removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, Congress was given a 45-day period to challenge Obama’s decision — the period ends Friday, reports The Washington Times.
“We are just two days away. There has not been a vote in the Congress so that’s going to stand,” Udall said. “I think it will be a matter of weeks when we have restored diplomatic relations.”
Franken also voiced his opinion on U.S.-Cuba relations.
“I think there is a very small minority, really, in the Senate and the Congress who have strong objections to this and I think that a majority of the American people and a majority of the Congress would be for lifting the embargo,” Franken said. “But there is work to be done.”
Questions were raised to Franken and Udall, respectively, on such topics as Guantanamo Bay and extraditing American citizens who committed crimes and fled to Cuba to avoid prosecution.
On Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. Navy base that Cuba’s President Raul Castro has said must be returned to the country, Franken said, “I don’t believe that that is a salient issue at this time.” Franken added that he does not have a “strong opinion” on the base, but he does think it should be closed as a detention center for terrorism suspects.
On the topic of alleged criminals from the U.S. who have sought refuge in Cuba, Udall said, “I assume with the normalization of relations we are going to have a lot more discussions about things like that.”
Udall referred to Charlie Hill, a man who fled to Cuba after killing a police officer in New Mexico in 1971. He said he thinks Hill should be extradited.