February 19, 2015 / 10:09 PM / 5 years ago

U.S. congressional delegation meets Cuba's heir apparent

HAVANA (Reuters) - Nine members of the U.S. House of Representatives met Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Thursday, marking the first time Cuba’s heir apparent to power has received an official American delegation.

U.S. House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (3rd R, front), Archbishop of Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega (2nd R, front) and members of a delegation of congressional Democrats pose for a photograph in Havana February 19, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and eight other House Democrats concluded their two-day visit by meeting Diaz-Canel, 54, who is first in line to the seat of power held by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro since 1959.

The meeting came two months after the United States and Cuba announced a rapprochement and plans to restore diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of hostilities.

The nine Democrats, all supporters of U.S. President Barack Obama’s policy change on the Communist-led island, were due to be escorted directly to the airport after the meeting.

Diaz-Canel and the Americans talked about Cuba’s market-style economic reforms, bilateral relations and prospects of the U.S. Congress lifting the country’s 53-year-old trade embargo of Cuba, official Cuban media reported.

It was the first time Diaz-Canel has met any American officials since he became first vice-president two years ago, Cuban officials said. As president, Raul Castro has received American delegations led by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy.

Diaz-Canel, who is most likely to become president when Castro steps down in 2018, has generally kept a low profile but occasionally speaks publicly of Cuba’s need for a more dynamic and critical press and for a more open Internet.

The United States and Cuba held historic talks in Havana last month aimed at re-establishing diplomatic ties. A second round is scheduled for Feb. 27 in Washington.

Obama, a Democrat, has already started to lift barriers to trade and travel but needs the Republican-controlled congress to completely lift the trade embargo.

“There is strong bipartisan support to lift the embargo in the congress, however it’s not universal and it certainly does not appear to be shared by those in power who have the ability to bring a bill to the floor,” Pelosi told reporters.

Other members of the delegation were Representatives Jim McGovern, Eliot Engel, Rosa DeLauro, Collin Peterson, David Cicilline, Anna Eshoo, Nydia Velazquez and Steve Israel.

Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio

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