Cuban-American lawmakers lash out at the White House over Cuba normalization

If Barack Obama had hoped that his decision to unilaterally extend diplomatic relations to communist Cuba following a prisoner exchange would be warmly greeted by the Cuban-American population, he was disappointed by the reaction from Democratic and Republican members of Congress representing that constituency.

“President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement.

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. I fear that today’s actions will put at risk the thousands of Americans that work overseas to support civil society, advocate for access to information, provide humanitarian services, and promote democratic reforms.

This asymmetrical trade will invite further belligerence toward Cuba’s opposition movement and the hardening of the government’s dictatorial hold on its people.

“As part of a larger agreement, the United States is releasing three Cuban spies first arrested in Miami in 2001,” The New York Times reported. “American officials denied that they were first being traded for Mr. Gross and said they were instead being swapped for another person imprisoned in Cuba who is believed to have worked for United States intelligence agencies.”

The White House claims that the release of this high-level intelligence asset, who had been held a prisoner in Cuba for the last 20 years, rather than just the release of Alan Gross that serves as the primary impetus for the administration’s decision to lift restrictions on Cuba.

Cuban-American legislators are not buying it. “It’s absurd, and it’s part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants by the Obama administration,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), also a Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, told Fox News on Wednesday.

“These Cuban spies were involved in providing information to the Cuban government that [cost] the lives of Americans,” Rubio added. “Barack Obama is the worst negotiator as president since at least Jimmy Carter.”

Rubio said that there is no support in Congress for the lifting of the Cuban embargo. “I think they’re going to struggle to get the votes to fund an embassy or to get an ambassador appointed” he later told CNBC.

“The way that his release was achieved is outrageous and proves that once again, Pres. Obama is the Appeaser-in-Chief,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL). “[Obama’s] decision to allow the Castro regime to blackmail the US and abandon our pro-democracy principles is an outrage.”

Other Cuban-American legislators, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), whose father suffered brutal treatment at the hands of Cuban authorities under Fulgencio Batista, have yet to release statements on this development. This post will be updated when they do.

UPDATE: Rep. Ros-Lehtinen has released a statement condemning Obama’s move:

“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. It is quite possible that this unilateral action by the President without Congressional consultation is in violation of the following U.S. laws: Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996, Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, and the Trading with the Enemy Act. The White House attempts to normalize relationships with Cuba without the approval of Congress may be in direct violation of Helms-Burton that specifically states that all political prisoners must be released and free and fair elections must be held before establishing a diplomatic relationship. This misguided action by President Obama will embolden the Castro regime to continue its illicit activities, trample on fundamental freedoms, and disregard democratic principles.”