The State Department said Tuesday that Cuba's weekend crackdown on nearly 100 activists isn't a reason to stop pursuing a new relationship with Cuba, and instead is a reason to normalize relations with the communist island as quickly as possible.
Spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba confirmed that Cuba detained nearly 100 people on Sunday, and key officials tweeted out their opposition to that move over the weekend.
"We will always speak out against violations of international human rights," Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson tweeted on Monday. "These attacks can never be justified."
But Kirby said the crackdown wouldn't change Obama's effort to establish embassies in both countries, a change Obama has pursued along with increased trade and travel and a push to end the embargo.
"[I]t's not going to change the policy about the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba," Kirby said of the weekend crackdown. "In fact, it reinforces the need to move forward with reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, because opening our embassy, we believe, will advance our human rights agenda by opening up channels of official engagement through the reestablishment of those relations."
When asked if State is concerned with Cuba's actions, Kirby said "certainly it's concerning to us." But he said the U.S. would continue to criticize human rights violations in Cuba even as it tries to normalize relations.
When asked whether the U.S. made any specific arguments to Cuba over the last few days about the crackdown, Kirby said he had no specific conversations to report, but said he was "certain" that State "made our concerns very well known."
One reporter asked if the crackdown took place against people going to church on Sunday, but Kirby said he didn't have any information about "exactly how and why they were detained."
Republicans have blasted Obama's Cuba policy changes as an attempt to seek a legacy, when he should instead be trying to trade those concessions for new commitments from Cuba to respect human rights and enact political reforms.
Some Senate Republicans have said they would block any Obama nominee to be the nation's first ambassador to Cuba in decades.