By Ian Swanson - 04/13/09 03:59 PM EDT
Two Cuban-American GOP lawmakers blasted President Obama’s decision Monday to allow more travel by Cuban-Americans to the island.
Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said Obama’s move was a “serious mistake” and a concession to a dictatorship that has increased its repression of pro-democracy activists. Besides lifting the travel restrictions, Obama said he would allow Cuban-Americans to transfer money to relatives in Cuba.
“Unilateral concessions to the dictatorship embolden it to further isolate, imprison and brutalize pro-democracy activists, to continue to dictate which Cubans and Cuban-Americans are able to enter the island, and this unilateral concession provides the dictatorship with critical financial support,” the two said in their statement.
The Diaz-Balart brothers are among the toughest advocates in Congress of a hard-line approach to Cuba’s government. Lincoln Diaz-Balart was born in Cuba and fled the country with his family after Fidel Castro’s revolution.
Democrats unsuccessfully tried to knock off both GOP lawmakers in last fall’s elections, and the two faced their most serious challenges in years.
Obama won the state of Florida in 2008, partly by winning the Hispanic vote. President Bush had won a majority of the Hispanic vote in 2004.
Another Florida Republican, Rep. Connie Mack, criticized Obama for making the "unilateral" change but said the U.S. should find ways to "strengthen the bonds" of families torn apart by the Castro regime.
“President Obama, however, should not make any unilateral change in America’s policy toward Cuba. Instead, Congress should vigorously debate these and other ideas before any substantive policy changes are implemented," Mack said.
Lawmakers who favor lifting the economic embargo against Cuba, including Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), said Obama had taken a good first step.
Obama’s moves on Monday were widely anticipated ahead of the Summit of the Americas meeting at the end of this week in Trinidad and Tobago. A host of Latin American leaders had urged Obama to change U.S. policy toward Cuba.
Some had hoped Obama might go further by loosening rules to allow cultural and educational trips to Cuba by Americans.
This story was updated at 4:33 p.m.