The culmination of her nearly 40 years of advocating for the normalization of relations with Cuba will not end with Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Cal., becoming the next U.S. ambassador to the embargoed Caribbean nation.
Lee, 68, who has been in Congress since 1998 and has made 21 trips to Cuba since 1978, denied reports that she had a "gentlewoman's agreement" with President Barack Obama that if the U.S. opens an embassy in Cuba she would become the first ambassador.
"I will not seek the nomination to be ambassador to Cuba," Lee said in a statement. "I plan to continue the efforts to normalize relations with Cuba and the fight for our shared progressive values in Congress," Politico reported
The San Francisco Chronicle ran a story that Lee would be nominated as ambassador following Obama's actions in opening up dialogue and easing travel restrictions with Cuba.
The story set off a flurry of interest among those interested in filling her seat in Congress, including Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner of Berkeley and Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Oakland, SFGate reported
However, it looks like they'll have to wait.
On April 9, 2009, in a memo entitled "Reflections by Comrade Fidel," Fidel Castro lauded Lee, citing her "unbeatable proof of political courage" in voting against the Iraq war. "For that, she deserves every honor," Castro wrote, SFGate reports
She also gained Castro's gratitude for her role in arranging for the return of Elian Gonzalez, 6, who survived a raft attempt to flee to the U.S.
She has been deeply involved in setting up flights to Havana from the U.S., helping American students study medicine in Cuba, organizing trips by an Oakland amateur baseball team to Cuba and leading many fact-finding missions to the island, SFGate reports.
After Obama's announcement of the beginning of the process of normalizing relations
with Cuba, she said in a statement, “I applaud the President for his historic step towards normalizing relations with our neighbor. In the more than fifty years since the embargo began, U.S. policy towards Cuba has been an unpopular failure and it is past time for change."
Opening up Cuba is still a tense political issue. While Obama is expected to make a strong pitch for his Cuba policy in his State of the Union address, inviting Alan Gross, who spent five years in a Cuban prison and was recently released, as Michelle Obama's guest, House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Marco Rubio will be bringing anti-Castro Cuban dissidents to hear Obama speak, the National Journal reports
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