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Originally published Saturday, February 14, 2015 at 12:08 AM

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Guest: Forging a new path forward with Cuba

It is past time that Congress act to end more than 50 years of failed policies, writes guest columnist Barbara Lee.

Special to Tribune News Service

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Thank you so refreshing to hear a Representative actually talking sense. Cuba is proud nation with a first class... MORE


IN December, President Obama took bold action and made a historic announcement to end more than five decades of failed U.S. policy toward Cuba.

He renewed his commitment during the State of the Union address and has already dispatched Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson to Cuba for high-level talks.

Our president is leading the way with his action. Now it is time for Congress to act.

Together with some of my Republican colleagues, I am helping to lead a bipartisan and bicameral working group that is developing and passing legislation to end our failed policies toward Cuba and forge a new path forward.

The day before the president’s announcement, I finished my 21st visit to the island, where I was leading a congressional delegation investigating a medical treatment that could save millions of lives.

Renewing relations with Cuba will have great benefits for both the Cuban and American people.

Opening trade ties with Cuba will create opportunities for U.S. businesses to expand and create jobs. This is why I am proud to co-sponsor with U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., the Free Trade with Cuba Act to lift our failed embargo.

In addition to business opportunities, this is a matter of personal freedom. Americans should have the freedom to travel to Cuba, just like they can travel to any other country.

To that end, I am proud to co-lead, with Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act to lift the restrictive travel ban that prevents Americans from freely traveling to Cuba.

It is past time that Congress act to end more than 50 years of failed policies.

In addition to jobs created by trading with Cuba, we can learn a lot from Cuba’s doctors and medical professionals.

Cuba’s doctors are some of the best in the world and its medical training institutions are among the world’s finest.

During my most recent congressional delegation visit, we examined a treatment for diabetic foot ulcers. This terrible condition affects an estimated 15 percent of all patients with diabetes and precedes 85 percent of all diabetes-related amputations. The direct medical cost of treating these ulcers totals more than $50 billion a year.

Should we not be seeking all available treatments for this horrible condition?

While I was in Cuba, I saw a treatment that reduces the risk of amputation by more than 70 percent, and is being used in some 20 countries. Let’s renew relations with Cuba and open the door for new, improved and more effective medical treatments.

In addition, we should be looking to Cuban medical institutions to help train our nation’s doctors. Some 200 low-income and minority students are being trained in Cuba and are committed to serving as doctors in our most underserved communities.

For decades, Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba, based in my district, has supported these students and the vulnerable U.S. communities from which they come and which they serve.

We can all agree that there are certainly political differences between the U.S. and Cuba.

As the president noted in his announcement: “We can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.”

The president is right. Simply put, our policies of isolation have failed and engagement is the way forward.

Now, Congress needs to seize the moment.

© , Tribune News Service

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee represents California’s 13th District. She is a member of the U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs.

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