President Obama's announcement that he would seek to normalize relations with Cuba landed like a thud among many of Miami's Cuban-American Republican politicians today. Though almost all applauded the fact that former prisoner Alan Gross was freed, most blasted Obama over the wider implications.
Sen. Marco Rubio led the charge. "At a minimum, I would say this: Barack Obama is the worst negotiator that we've had as president since at least Jimmy Carter and maybe in the history of this country," he told Fox News earlier today. In a statement, he warned that the move would embolden other hostile regimes to "take advantage of President Obama's naiveté during his final two years in office."
Meanwhile, on the more practical side of things, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado appeared more concerned about the idea of a Cuban consulate popping up in Miami.
Regalado told the Miami Herald that he was briefed on the matter before the president's announcement. The mayor thought the administration was looking for local support for Obama's announcement, but Regaldo said he simply didn't respond. He seemed more concerned about the local implications.
"I would think having a consulate in Miami would be a mistake because it would create a safety issue," Regalado told the paper, "because some people eventually will try to do something to the consulate. So I'm afraid that this will happen."
Regalado came to prominence as a Spanish-language radio personality with strong anti-Castro sentiments, so his early statements on the matter seem surprisingly practical.
In contrast, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen warned that the announcement was a "propaganda coup for the Castro brothers, who will now fill their coffers with more money at the expense of the Cuban people."
Incoming congressman Carlos Curbelo told National Review Online that President Obama was interested in spreading "peace through weakness." Said Curbelo: "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."
Below are the statements in full from Miami's Republican legislators:
Sen. Marco Rubio:
"Today's announcement initiating a dramatic change in U.S. policy toward Cuba is just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost. Like all Americans, I rejoice at the fact that Alan Gross will be able to return to his family after five years in captivity. Although he is supposedly being released on humanitarian grounds, his inclusion in a swap involving intelligence agents furthers the Cuban narrative about his work in Cuba. In contrast, the Cuban Five were spies operating against our nation on American soil. They were indicted and prosecuted in a court of law for the crimes of espionage and were linked to the murder of the humanitarian pilots of Brothers to the Rescue. There should be no equivalence between the two, and Gross should have been released unconditionally.
"The President's decision to reward the Castro regime and begin the path toward the normalization of relations with Cuba is inexplicable. Cuba's record is clear. Just as when President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Castro family still controls the country, the economy and all levers of power. This administration's attempts to loosen restrictions on travel in recent years have only served to benefit the regime. While business interests seeking to line their pockets, aided by the editorial page of The New York Times, have begun a significant campaign to paper over the facts about the regime in Havana, the reality is clear. Cuba, like Syria, Iran, and Sudan, remains a state sponsor of terrorism. It continues to actively work with regimes like North Korea to illegally traffic weapons in our hemisphere in violation of several United Nations Security Council Resolutions. It colludes with America's enemies, near and far, to threaten us and everything we hold dear. But most importantly, the regime's brutal treatment of the Cuban people has continued unabated. Dissidents are harassed, imprisoned and even killed. Access to information is restricted and controlled by the regime. That is why even more than just putting U.S. national security at risk, President Obama is letting down the Cuban people, who still yearn to be free.
"I intend to use my role as incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people's expense. Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama's naiveté during his final two years in office. As a result, America will be less safe as a result of the President's change in policy. When America is unwilling to advocate for individual liberty and freedom of political expression 90 miles from our shores, it represents a terrible setback for the hopes of all oppressed people around the globe."
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart:
"Alan Gross should never have spent one day in prison and we are glad that he will finally be reunited with his family. However, the way that his release was achieved is outrageous and proves that once again, President Obama is the Appeaser-in-Chief who is willing to provide unprecedented concessions to a brutal dictatorship that opposes U.S. interests at every opportunity. The three remaining Cuban spies who President Obama is releasing were convicted for spying on U.S. military installations, and one was convicted for his role in the shoot-down of an American civilian aircraft in international airspace, which murdered three innocent Americans and one U.S. resident. Their early release is an egregious miscarriage of justice. In addition, providing diplomatic relations and further weakening sanctions attempt to legitimize and provide hard currency to our hemisphere's worst human rights abuser. President Obama's actions are an unconscionable betrayal of America's fundamental values and a profound insult to the oppressed Cuban people.
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U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:
"Although the freedom of Alan Gross is welcome news, it's important to remember that Mr. Gross should have never been imprisoned in Cuba by the Castro regime in the first place. The manner in which the White House has negotiated this prisoner swap is a slap in the face to the families of the Brothers to the Rescue and poses a threat to our national security. President Obama has unilaterally released three convicted Cuban spies who were responsible for the deaths of three American citizens and one U.S. resident: Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales, whose planes were unjustly shot down over international waters on direct orders of the Castro brothers.
"Ever since Gross had been unjustly imprisoned, several high ranking Administration officials reiterated to Congress and to the American people that there was no equivalency between the Cuban Five and Alan Gross and reaffirmed that no swap would take place. Furthermore, this agreement between Obama and Castro leaves out one important aspect: the Cuban people. The reality is that since the Obama administration first eased restrictions, the situation on the island has gotten worse with an increased level of arbitrary detainments. The Castro dictatorship should be answering to its own people to whom it has denied basic rights for over five decades.
"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."