The award for the most consistent and principled participant definitely goes to Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona. He has been a consistent supporter of ending the Travel Ban and the Embargo (Blockade). He was the only legislator I saw who took on the myths and lies coming from testimony. It was claimed that Americans only go to Cuba to stay in big hotels, smoke cigars and don't interact with any Cubans except their waiters in the restaurants. He took this on forcefully stating that Cuban workers in the hotels should not be denigrated. He went on to say Americans who travel interact with Cubans and are not prohibited from traveling anywhere on the island or talking to anyone.
The biggest disappointment was the approach of the Democrats on the panel. They seemed to only address those who were there spouting the typical counter revolutionary rhetoric. It was like they only wanted to assure them that eliminating the ban would mean that Americans can "influence the change in Cuba after Fidel dies". Even Rep. Barbara Lee who represents the Bay Area in California took this approach.
The hottest fireworks were between Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (Always the mouthpiece of the rabid Cuban American Foundation in Miami) and Gen. Barry McCaffrey. He almost lost his military discipline as she refused to call him General and attacked him for meeting with Fidel for three hours. First he made her apologize for not using his military title and corrected her by saying that he had actually met with Fidel Castro for seven hours. He went on to say that the message he was bringing is that Cuba is not a national security threat to the United States and that we must engage diplomatically with our neighbor.
Finally, the saddest part of the hearing was exactly what I have been afraid will happen. I didn't expect it in a discussion about ending the travel ban, although I knew that it will come up in discussions of ending the blockade. Three different Republicans on the committee railed on about "cop killer" JoAnne Chesimard. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen actually flourished a tabloid newspaper with a 1973 picture of Assata Shakur. Assata was framed and sent to Alderson Prison For Women. This is a Federal Maximum Security Prison in West Virginia although she was never convicted of a Federal crime. She escaped and has been living in Cuba since 1978. The Helms-Burton Act is the legislation which codified the Cuban blockade. That legislation states that the blockade cannot end until JoAnne Chesimard (Assata Shakur) is returned to the United States. This is a good time to read or re-read ''Assata, An Autobiography". When I met her in Cuba I asked her if she intended to write another autobiography. She just smiled. I didn't think this would come up as part of the bill to end the travel ban. But it may.