Raul Castro has indicated he may consider improving ties with the US
The largest delegation from the US
Congress to visit Cuba since the 1959 revolution has arrived in Havana.
The 10 members of the bipartisan
group favour the easing of US sanctions on Cuba and are seeking dialogue.
Jeff Flake, a Republican congressman
heading the delegation, said he hoped to meet officials and launch a "new
era in US-Cuba relations".
It is not clear whether the team
will meet acting President Raul Castro, who has called for better ties with
President Fidel Castro, 80,
temporarily ceded power to his brother after having emergency intestinal
surgery in July.
The US broke official ties with Cuba
following Fidel Castro's rise to power in 1959 and has had an economic
embargo in place against the island since 1960.
The US delegation will spend three
days in Cuba, during which time members are due to meet several high-ranking
President Fidel Castro
last appeared on television in October
Made up of six Democrats and four
Republicans, the party is led by Mr Flake, a Republican from Arizona, and
William Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts.
The BBC's Americas editor Emilio San
Pedro says the timing of the visit, coming as Cuba undergoes what could be
described as its most significant internal political transformation in
decades, is important.
However it remains unclear whether
the trip will be anything more than symbolic, our correspondent says.
The visit has been criticised by
some opponents of the Castro regime in the US, including Cuban exiles in
Miami, who say that economic interests should not be put before human rights
The Bush administration has also
shown no signs of embracing a thaw as long as Cuba's communist system
remains intact and political prisoners remain in jail, our correspondent
Acting leader Raul Castro has given
several indications that he may be open to a warming of relations.
A fortnight ago, he used an address
at a military parade held to mark his older brother's 80th birthday to
attack the US - but also to renew an offer to hold talks with Washington.
Fidel Castro did not appear at the
parade and has not been seen in public since 26 July.
His last appearance on Cuban TV,
looking frail and wearing pyjamas rather than his trademark military
fatigues, was in late October.
The top US intelligence official,
John Negroponte, has told the Washington Post newspaper that the president
is believed to be very ill and close to death.
"Everything we see indicates that it
will not be much longer... months, not years," he told the Post.