Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) fiercely criticized President Barack Obama on Wednesday for moving to ease US-Cuba relations.
“It’s absurd and it’s part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants that this administration has established,” Rubio said in a Fox News interview.
Rubio, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, was reacting to the White House’s decision to beginning normalizing relations with the Cuban government following a prisoner swap between the two countries. Like Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), who also slammed Obama Wednesday, Rubio warned that the deal will encourage other countries to kidnap Americans.
“It puts a price on every American abroad. Governments now know that if they can take an American hostage, they can get very significant concessions from the United States,” he said.
In a separate interview with the Associated Press, Rubio further said the deal will help the Castro regime in Cuba become “permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come.” The US has placed an economic embargo against Cuba since Fidel Castro overthrew the previous government. His brother, Raúl Castro, now leads the country.
“This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba,” Rubio said. “But it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come.”
Rubio also released a lengthy statement vowing “to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people’s expense. ”
View his full statement below:
“Today’s announcement initiating a dramatic change in U.S. policy toward Cuba is just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost.
“Like all Americans, I rejoice at the fact that Alan Gross will be able to return to his family after five years in captivity. Although he is supposedly being released on humanitarian grounds, his inclusion in a swap involving intelligence agents furthers the Cuban narrative about his work in Cuba. In contrast, the Cuban Five were spies operating against our nation on American soil. They were indicted and prosecuted in a court of law for the crimes of espionage and were linked to the murder of the humanitarian pilots of Brothers to the Rescue. There should be no equivalence between the two, and Gross should have been released unconditionally.
“The President’s decision to reward the Castro regime and begin the path toward the normalization of relations with Cuba is inexplicable. Cuba’s record is clear. Just as when President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Castro family still controls the country, the economy and all levers of power. This administration’s attempts to loosen restrictions on travel in recent years have only served to benefit the regime. While business interests seeking to line their pockets, aided by the editorial page of The New York Times, have begun a significant campaign to paper over the facts about the regime in Havana, the reality is clear. Cuba, like Syria, Iran, and Sudan, remains a state sponsor of terrorism. It continues to actively work with regimes like North Korea to illegally traffic weapons in our hemisphere in violation of several United Nations Security Council Resolutions. It colludes with America’s enemies, near and far, to threaten us and everything we hold dear. But most importantly, the regime’s brutal treatment of the Cuban people has continued unabated. Dissidents are harassed, imprisoned and even killed. Access to information is restricted and controlled by the regime. That is why even more than just putting U.S. national security at risk, President Obama is letting down the Cuban people, who still yearn to be free.
“I intend to use my role as incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people’s expense. Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté during his final two years in office. As a result, America will be less safe as a result of the President’s change in policy. When America is unwilling to advocate for individual liberty and freedom of political expression 90 miles from our shores, it represents a terrible setback for the hopes of all oppressed people around the globe.”
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), whose parents immigrated from Cuba and who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a blistering critique Tuesday of the Obama administration’s decision to release Cuban spies as the Castro regime freed American Alan Gross from imprisonment.
“President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government,” Menendez said in a news release. “There is no equivalence between an international aid worker and convicted spies who were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage against our nation.”
Menendez added, “Trading Mr. Gross for three convicted criminals sets an extremely dangerous precedent. It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips.”
Gross was an American contractor who was serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba. He was trying to bring internet service to the country.
dministration officials have said the simultaneous releases were not part of a “swap” but part of a larger agreement. Menendez was not convinced.
“Let’s be clear, this was not a “humanitarian” act by the Castro regime. It was a swap of convicted spies for an innocent American,” Menendez said in his statement.
Menendez, a hard-liner on Cuba policy, will give up the gavel on the foreign relations committee in January. He has butted heads with Obama over several foreign policy flare-ups.
He did call Gross’ return “a moment of profound relief for Alan Gross and his family.”
“He should have been released immediately and unconditionally five years ago,” Menendez said. “He committed no crime and was simply working to provide internet access to Cuba’s small Jewish community. His imprisonment was cruel and arbitrary, but consistent with the behavior of the Cuban regime.”
The political ground shook in South Florida on Wednesday when President Barack Obama announced plans to restore full diplomatic relations with Communist Cuba.
Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community, reacted with a collective shock. Hardline opponents of the Castro regime lambasted the president for what they called a betrayal.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, a Republican whose father was a pilot in the 1996 Brothers to the Rescue mission, called the Democratic president a sellout.
“The Cuban exile community that has made a foundation out of standing firm against the Castro government has been, in essence, sold out,” he told the Miami Herald. “Those that have lost themselves to the straits of Florida, that have drowned, I feel that their memory has been sold out. The Brothers to the Rescue pilots – those American citizens – that were blown up, their memory and their families’ misery has been sold out.”
Maggie Khuly, the sister of Armando Alejandre Jr, one of the four Brothers to the Rescue members shot down, said the families of the failed mission’s victims were outraged.
“I was expecting this, but I can’t believe it,” Khuly told the Herald. “No one [in the federal government] had the decency of telling us anything.”
People across the city tuned in to watch Obama address the nation at noon. In Cuba, Raúl Castro spoke at the same time.
Several people gathered around a television set showing CNN at a waiting room at Doctor’s Hospital in Coral Gables to watch reporting from Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana, where a small group of hardliners were protesting. Early on, though, there were more reporters than demonstrators.
Then, Obama spoke.
“Wow. Wow. Wow,” an unidentified woman said when the president finished.
“Maduro is screwed,” said another, referring to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, a Castro ally. The crowd remained as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, appeared on the screen and criticized Obama from Capitol Hill.
The day began with the news that Cuba had freed American political prisoner Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds – and that the U.S. would swap three imprisoned Cuban spies in exchange for a U.S. intelligence officer detained on the island.
“We’re giving them a lot of stuff in payment for the exchange of a hostage,” Khuly told the Miami Herald. “What about human rights? It’s just incredible. I’m extremely disappointed in the president.”
Commissioner Bovo also called the move bad precedent.
“I don’t know what that does for other Americans traveling in Venezuela, in Nicarague – name your country – where now, literally, if want to extract something from the U.S., take a prisoner, trump some charges, and send them to jail,” he said.
County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a Wednesday morning interview with the Herald that he was on his way to a phone briefing by the White House on the upcoming announcement. He said he didn’t know enough to critique the White House plan, but was critical of normalizing relations.
“The Cuban government hasn’t done anything to deserve this,” said Gimenez, who was born in Cuba. “If it’s going to happen, I hope there will be positive results.”
Miami police said it was monitoring local reaction in case Obama’s announcement drew crowds or protests. Police Chief Manuel Orosa said resources would be deployed as needed “to keep everything under control and let people demonstrate peacefully.”
The department placed all personnel on alert but did not activate any special plans. Orosa said police would pay particular attention to Spanish-language talk radio in case calls go out for rallies, either for or against the policy changes.
Despite criticism of the policy overhaul, there was widespread relief over Gross’s release after five years.
The Greater Miami Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Relations Council issued a statement welcoming Gross, a Washington resident, back to the country. Gross was arrested in December 2009 while working as a subcontractor with the United States Agency for International Development to help a small Jewish community in Cuba.
The statement thanked advocates who signed petitions and wrote letters to elected officials to keep them from forgetting about Gross’s imprisonment.
“We wish Alan Gross a full recovery from the ill health that resulted from his unjust and inhumane incarceration and we send our warmest wishes to his family who has suffered such great distress during this terrible ordeal,” the statement said.
“Last night, Jews around the world kindled the first light of Chanukah, celebrating a historical victory. Tonight, as we kindle the second Chanukah candle, we know it will burn that much brighter for us in gratitude for the release of Alan Gross and for all those who championed his cause for so long.”
Local public figures also applauded Gross’s release.
“On the first day of Hanukkah, #AlanGross is released from a Cuban prison. What a great gift for his family,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, a Cuban-American Democrat, posted to her Twitter account, @KathyFndzRundle.
Annette Taddeo, the former chairwoman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, linked to an ABC News story about the release. “Happy #Hannukkah indeed!” wrote Taddeo, who is Jewish, on her account, @Annette_Taddeo.
Miami Herald staff writers Douglas Hanks and Charles Rabin contributed to this report.