Congressman Steve Cohen

Representing the 9th District of Tennessee

Congressman Cohen’s Statement on his Trip to Cuba with President Obama

March 22, 2016
Press Release

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) released the following statement on his trip to Cuba with President Barack Obama:

“I had a phenomenal experience in Cuba with President Obama and my colleagues. I was honored to be a part of the delegation on this historic trip. Cuba is a naturally beautiful country, and the Cuban people showed us great hospitality during our stay.

The President delivered a heartfelt speech to the Cuban people that was warmly received.  The President admitted the differences between our two countries but highlighted the potential to build upon our nations’ common interests. There is undoubtedly a difference in perspective on the power of the State, democracy, openness, debate, and what’s best for society. But there is hope for the future that the United States can develop a productive relationship with Cuba as quickly as possible, replacing 55 years of failed foreign policy.  A strong relationship with Cuba will benefit trade between our countries, and I believe that will benefit Memphis entrepreneurs as well as businesses such as AutoZone for Cuba’s aging American cars, FedEx, medical device companies and health-industry professionals. Cuba has some of the world’s best medical minds and practices and has made significant advancements in diabetes, cancer, and HIV research. Memphis’ ties to Cuba were strengthened last month when a 3-year-old Cuban child, Manolito Alejandro, received life-saving heart surgery at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.  I was pleased to help facilitate the surgery and delighted to meet young Manolito. Cooperation on medical advancements and procedures, like Manolito’s surgery, will help advance medical diplomacy between Memphis and Cuba.

When I was 5 years old, I met the ‘Cuban Comet’ Minnie Miñoso and we had a lifelong friendship.  I wore my autographed Minnie Miñoso hat while in Cuba and also presented Minnie Miñoso hats to President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro. The hats were provided to me by Minnie’s son, Charlie. Minnie was the first black Cuban player in the major leagues, a 9-time All-Star and a legend in Cuba, and he will always be the greatest in my mind.  I also distributed pins and baseball cards, given to me by the Chicago White Sox, to various officials and others we encountered on the trip. A highlight of the trip was meeting Jackie Robinson’s widow, who was travelling with our delegation. She traded me a #42 Jackie Robinson pin for a #9 Minnie Miñoso pin which was most appropriate as Minnie has often been referred to as the Cuban Jackie Robinson for breaking down racial barriers in his home country. Many of the older Cubans I met remembered Minnie Miñoso fondly and spoke to me about how Minnie was a hero who tore down the walls of segregation in Cuba.

Also while in Cuba, I attended an MLB luncheon and the Cuban national team’s exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Rays. At the MLB luncheon, I met former New York Yankee great Derek Jeter, owner of the Tampa Bay Rays Stuart Sternberg, Hall-of-Famer Dave Winfield, and MLB’s chief baseball officer Joe Torre. On the drive to the baseball game, the streets were filled with smiling Cubans waving to us and photographing us as we passed by. The game itself was meaningful and brought back memories of going to games in Memphis with my parents. There was no more fitting tribute I could pay to my friend Minnie Miñoso than to attend a baseball game in Cuba, sporting my autographed hat, in his honor, and I know he was there with me in spirit.”     

President Obama became the first president to visit Cuba in 88 years after announcing in 2014 that he intended to re-establish diplomatic relations with the country. In August 2015, Congressman Cohen joined U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and a bipartisan delegation of U.S. Senators and Representatives at the official re-opening of the United States Embassy in Havana, Cuba.