WASHINGTON, D.C. – Clearly, Pope Francis had a profound impact on the United States and Cuba by facilitating the historic change of policy led by President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro. I am pleased we are moving in the right direction towards normalization, but having just marked the 55th anniversary of the failed Cuban embargo that was first imposed on October 19, 1960, we need to do more.

Like many Americans, images of Pope Francis’s historic visit to the United States still flash through my mind. I was inspired by his call to all the Members of Congress to work together for the greater good. I was greatly honored by the Pope’s visit to a school in my beloved community of East Harlem where he planted seeds of love in the hearts of the children. Just before he traveled to the United States, the Pope visited Cuba, where his presence helped empower the Catholic Church to help the people of Cuba, especially the most vulnerable. Throughout his visits to the United States and Cuba, one theme rang clear: the importance of serving others and his vision of peace and unity.

We need to continue changing United States laws and regulations to promote the power of people to people connections, epitomized by the Pope’s visit to Cuba. I am doing my part to promote this people to people power. I am proud that this summer a delegation of Harlemites led by the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce’s and other New Yorkers returned from their successful mission to Havana, Cuba. During that trip, I helped arrange their meetings with senior officials of the Cuban government regarding trade, business and tourism and our anticipated first ever cultural exchange program in 2016, “Harlem Meets Havana.”

Americans can bring messages of friendship, freedom, political pluralism, and an openness to innovation and new ideas to help that country move along a brighter future, all while preserving and cherishing the beauty and unique nature of Cuban culture and society.

To promote closer ties between our countries, since 1993 and in every subsequent Congress, I have introduced the Free Trade with Cuba Act (H.R. 403 in the 114th Congress) to end the embargo and begin a new chapter in our relations with Cuba. Under the new Cuba policy, we have moved away from a flawed strategy of trying to bring about positive change through chaos and collapse in Cuba toward a smarter strategy of empowering the Cuban people to determine their own destiny.

Even so, sanctions on Cuba still affect the everyday economic and social well-being of 11 million Cuban citizens. The embargo also hurts American companies, which have been losing businesses to foreign competitors, costing the United States economy an estimated $1.2 billion annually.

Once restrictions are further liberalized, the number of Americans expected to travel to Cuba is expected to increase dramatically, enhancing cultural and economic exchanges and advancing change in Cuba through the power of people-to-people connections and expanded United States business ventures.

On September 25th, I joined other Members of Congress in meeting with President Raúl Castro on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, where we encouraged President Castro to continue supporting closer ties between our two countries. Together with my Colleagues in Congress, I am encouraging the Administration to consider boldly abstaining on the annual United Nations vote condemning the United States embargo on Cuba, which would send a clear signal that our nation is committed to the renewed relationship. I also recently urged the State Department to continue efforts to show additional results in time for the first anniversary of the change in our Cuba policy on December 17, 2015.

The Congress must do its part to allow free trade between all of America and Cuba. Free trade can help promote peace and unity between our two nations. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults (73%) say they approve of the U.S. renewing ties with Cuba. Let us carry out the will of the American people and end the trade embargo now.

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Rep. Charles B. Rangel represents New York’s 13th Congressional District, which includes Upper Manhattan and parts of the Bronx. He has served the people of New York City since 1971, and is the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade.

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