Delegation of US Republican lawmakers makes visit to Cuba

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez (second left) meets members of a US delegation on June 13, 2015, in Havana. -- PHOTO: AFP
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez (second left) meets members of a US delegation on June 13, 2015, in Havana. -- PHOTO: AFP

HAVANA (AFP) - A visiting delegation of Republican United States lawmakers met on Saturday with Cuban Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel to discuss the island's economy and closer ties between Havana and Washington.

Mr Diaz-Canel "welcomed this Saturday Republicans Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Patrick Roberts, senators from Arizona, Maine and Kansas, respectively, who are paying a visit to Cuba", a presenter read out on state television.

"There was discussion on how the process of updating our country's economic and social model is going, and the current context of Cuba-US relations including the need to end the blockade," the statement added, referring to comprehensive US sanctions in place since 1962.

Also on hand was Ms Josefina Vidal, Cuba's top diplomat for US affairs. She leads the Cuban side in ongoing negotiations on reestablishing full diplomatic ties.

Mr Flake supports ending restrictions the United States still has on its nationals spending money in Cuba - it amounts to an effective travel ban for American tourists. Tourism is a pillar of Cuba's economy.

US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in December to restore relations, and the two leaders held ground-breaking talks on the sidelines of an April summit in Panama.

The White House sees better relations with Cuba as correcting an out-of-date policy and as a likely signature foreign policy achievement of Mr Obama's presidency.

Just last month the United States dropped the only Communist-run country in the Americas from its blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism, removing yet another hurdle to normalisation of ties.