U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio slammed the Obama administration Wednesday, accusing it of “tyranny” in a speech responding to the news that the U.S. and Cuba will restore full diplomatic relations and that there will be an American embassy in the Communist nation for the first time in more than 50 years.
The Florida Republican, who is widely seen as a likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate and is of Cuban-American descent, said there were “no assurances of advances in democracy and freedom” in return for the lifting of a decades-long embargo against the country.
“No binding commitment was made,” Rubio said. “In exchange for all of these concessions, the only thing the Cuban government agreed to do was to release 53 political prisoners … and allow the United Nations and the Red Cross to monitor conditions on the island.”
He went on to say that “by conceding to these oppressors, [President Barack Obama has] let the people of Cuba down,” arguing that the move will boost Cuban President Raúl Castro’s hold on power.
“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.”
The final details of the deal, which will also loosen restrictions on travel and commerce between Cuba and the U.S., were hashed out during an hour-long phone call between Obama and Castro Tuesday, CNN reported. The call was the first between presidents of the two nations since the revolution in Cuba, and reflected the culmination of discussions between the two nations that began in June 2013, White House officials said.
“Today the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba," Obama said in televised remarks from the White House Wednesday afternoon.
"Neither the American nor the Cuban people are well-served by a policy that's rooted in events that took place before many of us were born.”
Castro gave a simultaneous speech from Cuba that was broadcast on the state news outlets there.
“The progress we've made in recent exchanges shows that we can find a solution to many problems," said Castro, according to a translation by Business Insider.
Rubio has long been a vocal opponent of the Cuban government, calling it a “totalitarian Communist regime” and “a state sponsor of terrorism” in a February speech on the floor of the Senate, and slamming the country’s support of the Venezuelan government, which he has long pushed the Obama administration to sanction, which Obama indicated it will do earlier this month.
“Let me tell you what the Cubans are really good at, because they don’t know how to run their economy, they don’t know how to build, they don’t know how to govern a people,” he said in the February remarks. “What they are really good at is repression. What they are really good at is shutting off information to the Internet and to radio and television and social media.”
He emphasized his criticism of Cuba’s human rights record in an interview with the Associated Press before his Wednesday speech, saying that normalizing relations will not alleviate many of the country’s ills and that it only helps the government of Castro, which he has long derided.
"This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba," Rubio told the AP. "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 responded in his Wednesday speech to the news that the Cuban government released imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross in exchange for the U.S. releasing three convicted Cuban spies from American prisons.
“I am overjoyed for Alan Gross and his family. He has been a hostage of this regime for far too long,” Rubio said.
He went on to call Obama “the worst negotiator” he has seen in his lifetime.
“His foreign policy is more than just naive. It is willfully ignorant of the way the world really works,” Rubio added.
The U.S. instituted an embargo against Cuba in 1959, after the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro; that embargo will be overturned as a result of the policy shift announced Wednesday.
Rubio, 43, was born in Miami after his parents immigrated to Florida from Cuba in 1956, going on to become naturalized U.S. citizens in 1975.
Before being elected to replace U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez in 2010, he was a member of Florida’s state House of Representative beginning in 2000. He is one of seven current members of Congress’s Cuban-American lobby, which includes two other senators, Republican Ted Cruz of Texas and Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey.
Rubio was joined in his criticism of Wednesday’s developments between Cuba and the U.S. by a number of his fellow Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Ron DeSantis, another member of Florida’s congressional delegation.
“This prisoner swap sends a signal to rogue regimes and actors that taking an American hostage can be leveraged into scoring policy concessions,” DeSantis said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “This makes America less safe and emboldens the dictatorship in Cuba”