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Jeff Flake, a Republican congressman heading the delegation, said he hoped to meet officials and launch a "new era in US-Cuba relations".
But now the ailing Castro is largely viewed as unlikely to return to power. Democrats, traditionally less inclined to back the sanctions against Cuba, are set to control Congress. Bush is looking more like a lame-duck leader and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is leaving office in January.
Adding to that perfect-storm scenario, a report by the watchdog Government Accountability Office last month questioned the efficiency of U.S. democracy programs to support dissidents on the island, giving more fuel to foes who argue that a change in policy is overdue.
''If you're a hard-liner on policy toward Cuba, things are not looking very good for you,'' said Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the Cuba Study Group, a centrist nonpartisan group based in Miami and Washington.