Cuban-American lawmakers offered a range of harsh critiques Wednesday to the president's bombshell announcement that the U.S. and Cuba will be normalizing relations after 55 years of hostility. Both Republican and Democratic members of Congress of Cuban descent slammed the plan as a misguided gambit that will lend legitimacy to the regime of President Raul Castro while doing nothing to address the country’s poor human rights record or help its economically depressed citizenry.
One of most prominent of the seven Cuban-Americans in Congress, Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and widely touted 2016 presidential candidate, offered a scathing critique of the Obama administration’s plan. He said in a televised address Wednesday afternoon that it “will only lead to greater wealth and influence for this regime.”
“This entire Cuba policy shift today was based on nothing more than an illusion and a lie,” Rubio said. “These changes will only lead to greater wealth and influence for this regime, especially the military.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the outgoing chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the move “is misguided and fails to understand the nature of the regime in Cuba,” arguing that it will be a boon for the Castro brothers who run Cuba.
"The United States has just thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline,” he said in a Wednesday statement. “This is a reward that a totalitarian regime does not deserve and this announcement only perpetuates the Castro regime’s decades of repression.”
The other Cuban-American in the Senate, Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican who is also seen as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, had not publicly addressed the Cuba announcement by 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, but he has long opposed any opening of ties of lifting of the embargo.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., called Obama the “Appeaser-in-Chief” in a statement slamming the Cuba deal.
“President Obama’s decision to allow the Castro regime to blackmail the United States and abandon our pro-democracy principles is an outrage,” he said. “These changes to policy will further embolden the Cuban dictatorship to continue brutalizing and oppressing its own people as well as other anti-American dictatorship and terrorist organizations.”
Havana-born Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., a former chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that “President Obama's actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government” because the administration also announced Wednesday that it had traded three jailed Cuban spies for the release of American contractor Alan Gross. She followed those remarks up with a statement blasting the normalization of relations with Cuba.
“The liberalization policies aimed at easing trade and remittances to Cuba is another propaganda coup for the Castro brothers, who will now fill their coffers with more money at the expense of the Cuban people,” she said. “This misguided action by President Obama will embolden the Castro regime to continue its illicit activities, trample on fundamental freedoms, and disregard democratic principles.”
Even lawmakers of Cuban descent who have not yet assumed office chimed in. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican who is the son of Cuban exiles and will replace Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia in January after beating him in November’s election, told National Review Online that in his district, “people are outraged, people are hurt” by the lifting of the embargo.
“The reason we have had a policy change now is because the president believes in peace through weakness,” Curbelo said. “As alarming as it is, it comes as no surprise — this is a president that has doubled down on a weak foreign policy where our enemies are rewarded and our allies are abandoned.”
Garcia and Cuban-born Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J., had not commented publicly on the plan by 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.