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The meeting with the leader of the Cuban revolution Fidel Castro,
The meeting with the leader of the Cuban revolution Fidel Castro, and the four hour-long talks with his brother President Raul Castro, have become the finishing stroke of the five day-long trip by U.S. congressmen to the ‘Freedom Island,' a place that still remains a forbidden fruit for average Americans.

The visit ended on April 7. The congressmen admit that it was designed to build bridges in relations between Washington and Havana. Delegation leader Rep. Barbara Lee (D - CA) said they were returning home with a single and unequivocal conclusion: the hour for talks with Cuba has come and there is no time to lose.

U.S. representatives have visited Cuba before. Democratic congressmen visited the island in 1999 and 2000 three times. There were also non-government contacts. Since the 1990s, U.S. ecumenical organization Pastors for Peace has frequently delivered humanitarian aid to the U.S. blockaded Cuba, which caused serious legal proceedings against its activists. In response, Cuba provided Americans from low-income families scholarships for the Latin American Medical School in Havana.

However, this visit to Cuba can be called a landmark, and not only because this was the first time U.S. congressmen met Raul Castro since his election as president.

The context of U.S.-Cuban relations appears to be more important in this regard. Washington's policy of financial and trade isolation of its neighbor has never been criticized so much both in Latin America and beyond.

In mid-April, Trinidad and Tobago will host the Fifth Summit of the Americas, which will be attended by 34 leaders from the Western hemisphere, including the United States. It is already clear that the demands on immediate cessation of Cuba's blockade will become a subject of heated debates, even if not included into the summit's final statements. Venezuela, Brazil, and Nicaragua have already declared their intention to raise this issue. The overwhelming majority of countries in the Western Hemisphere demand that the blockade should be stopped, including those that are not among Havana's close allies.

Possible and expected warming of U.S.-Cuban relations became a subject of discussion immediately after Barack Obama's arrival in the White House.

The first timid steps in this direction have already been made. Shortly before the visit, U.S. legislators eased restrictions on trips to Cuba for U.S. residing Cubans and those who have relatives in Cuba.

Moreover, there was a leak in the U.S. media that Obama may altogether cancel restrictions on trips to Cuba for Americans of Cuban origin. They are writing that Obama may take some steps in this direction even before the summit.

In the meantime, a change of vector in relations to Cuba is becoming an imperative for the United States, not only for political reasons. Cancellation of the embargo may become one of the incentives which the U.S. economy is short of during the economic crisis.

If trade restrictions are eased or lifted, U.S. companies will receive full access to the Cuban market. In different estimates, its annual demand for food and other goods runs up to $2.5 billion.

For its part, Cuba will receive an opportunity to establish direct contacts with American companies, which will allow it to give up on expensive imports from more distant countries.

Development of Cuban oil deposits will benefit the United States. The embargo prevents U.S. companies from holding talks on oil prospecting in the Cuban zone of the Mexican Gulf.

According to the Cuban Cupet, Cuba has 20 billion barrels of oil in offshore deposits. Experts believe that such reserves are enough to meet U.S. needs for three years.

Today, Russian, Chinese, and even Angolan companies are holding talks on oil prospecting in the Mexican Gulf. It is hard to imagine that the U.S. oil industry is not interested in oil 160 km (99 miles) from American shores, all the more so since spokesman for the Ministry of Basic Industries Manuel Marrero Faz expressed cautious optimism on this score. Marrero Faz said that Havana is open to such cooperation.

Experts are expecting an explosive growth of U.S. tourism on the island if restrictions are lifted. They believe that the current scant flow of tourists visiting Cuba via Mexico and Canada will expand from one million to five million per year after the embargo is cancelled.

This will benefit not only Cuba's tourist industry - it continues to grow despite the global crisis, mostly by inviting guests from Canada. The United States will also stand to gain - its tour operators will receive an entirely new market.

It would be wrong to say that such a pragmatic approach is alien to the congressmen who left Havana on Tuesday. After the meeting with Raul Castro, Barbara Lee said that normalization of bilateral relations and the blockade's cessation will benefit both countries. She made it clear that this will be the main piece of advice in a report to the State Department and the president.

In the meantime, Cuba has made it abundantly clear that it is ready for dialogue with the United States on any issue but proceeding from the prerequisites that are difficult to dispute - sovereign equality of states, respect for national independence, and inalienable right of every nation to self-determination. As Raul Castro declared during the meeting with congressmen, Cuba's approach to this issue has not and will not change.

Now the ball is in the U.S. court. There is every reason to expect a response.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.    

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