Some Republican leaders are sharply criticizing the Obama administration for establishing official diplomatic ties with Cuba, the Caribbean island nation that has been under the control of Communist dictator Fidel Castro and his brother Raul since 1959. A number of GOP presidential candidates and the speaker of the House of Representatives have noted the continued oppression of the Cuban people under the Castros.
Obama announced Wednesday that the United States had reached a deal with the Castro regime that will see a reestablishment of full diplomatic relations with Cuba. "This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize our relationship with the Cuban government and people," Obama said in a statement outside the White House. "There have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things. For the United States, that meant clinging to a policy that was not working. Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba, despite our good intentions, had the opposite effect."
Marco Rubio, a Florida senator and son of Cuban exiles, had a statement early Wednesday morning condemning the new policy. “Throughout this entire negotiation, as the Castro regime has stepped up its repression of the Cuban people, the Obama Administration has continued to look the other way and offer concession after concession," said Rubio, a Republican presidential candidate. "The administration's reported plan to restore diplomatic relations is one such prized concession to the Castro regime. It remains unclear what, if anything, has been achieved since the President's December 17th announcement in terms of securing the return of U.S. fugitives being harbored in Cuba, settling outstanding legal claims to U.S. citizens for properties confiscated by the regime, and in obtaining the unequivocal right of our diplomats to travel freely throughout Cuba and meet with any dissidents, and most importantly, securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people." Rubio added he would oppose the nomination of a U.S. ambassador to Cuba.
“The reopening of U.S. and Cuban embassies is the latest step in President Obama’s normalization of relations with the Castro regime, and the most recent example of this president’s foreign policy that ignores reality in exchange for surface level political 'wins,'" said former Texas governor Rick Perry, another GOP presidential candidate. "There is no indication that further normalization will do anything to actually liberate the Cuban people or advance American interests."
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush also weighed in, saying he opposes the announced deal as a "further embrace [of] the Castro regime" in Havana. "The real test of the Obama Administration’s rapprochement with the Castro regime in Cuba is not whether President Obama’s legacy is burnished with dubious diplomatic achievements and photo-ops, but whether improved relations between Havana and Washington advance the cause of human rights and freedom for the Cuban people," said Bush. "The ongoing detention of dissidents and continued human rights abuses suggest the Administration’s policy is failing this test."
House speaker John Boehner also blasted the decision. “The Obama administration is handing the Castros a lifetime dream of legitimacy without getting a thing for the Cuban people being oppressed by this brutal communist dictatorship," Boehner said in a statement. "As I’ve said before, relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until Cubans enjoy freedom – and not one second sooner.”
Hillary Clinton, Obama's former secretary of state and the leading Democratic candidate for president, reiterated her support for the policy on Twitter Wednesday morning:
New US Embassy in Havana helps us engage Cuban people & build on efforts to support positive change. Good step for US & Cuban people. -H— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) July 1, 2015
The embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States remains in place unless Congress repeals it, which Obama has asked it to do. The Castro government, Reuters reports, had included in its demands during the recent negotiations that the U.S. return its naval base at Guantanamo Bay to Cuba.
Update: Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who is expected to launch a presidential campaign soon, has released a statement on the Cuba deal. "President Obama’s decision to establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy there is yet another example of his appeasement of dictators," said Walker. "He is foolishly rewarding the brutal Castro dictatorship and selling out the Cuban people. Given his track record of retreat, should we expect an embassy in Iran next? Instead of supporting our close ally Israel with an embassy in Jerusalem, President Obama is accommodating an enemy, the Castro regime, without forcing it to turn over its terrorist and criminal fugitives.”
Update II: The Houston Chronicle reports Texas senator Ted Cruz, another presidential candidate, is calling the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba a "serious mistake." Here's the Chronicle:
"I think it is a mistake to give Castro everything he wants in exchange for nothing," the Republican presidential hopeful told reporters at a Houston book signing for his memoir, "A Time for Truth," which was released Tuesday. However, Cruz, whose father is Cuban, left the door open to maintaining the America's renewed relationship with Cuba. "Is there a world in which we would negotiate in Cuba to achieve meaningful reforms to allow free speech, to free the political prisoners, to let people be engaged and have freedom? Absolutely," Cruz said.
Update III: Senator Lindsey Graham has released a statement saying he would close an American embassy in Havana. "As president, I would not honor this decision with Cuba and I would close the embassy until the Castro brothers actually change their behavior. By suggesting the dictatorship in Cuba is an acceptable or normal government, we are sending the worst possible message at the most critical time," Graham said. “Today’s announcement makes it harder for us to get a good deal with the Iranians and harder for the next president to reset world order. I fear Assad, Putin, the Chinese, and terrorists who wish to do us harm take this as yet another sign of continued American weakness."