By Rebecca Shabad - 02/11/14 07:05 AM EST
Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday called on President Obama to end the trade embargo on Cuba.
In an op-ed for the Miami Herald, Leahy and Flake point to surveys that indicate a majority of people in the United States support a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba.
“Americans want a change in our Cuba policy. The president should heed the majority of those across the country who recognize that we have much to gain by jettisoning this Cold War relic," they wrote.
A poll conducted by the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin American Center found nearly two-thirds of Floridians support normalizing relations with Cuba. More than half of people across the country also support that option.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the first Cuban-American to serve in Congress, blasted the poll and Flake on Monday.
“It’s not surprising that this poll was conducted with a political agenda to help justify the disastrous policies toward Cuba by President Obama. This poll is being presented with the participation of Senator Jeff Flake, Castro’s cheerleader in the Senate who obsessively lobbies to lift sanctions on the dictatorship,” she said in a statement.
The two senators, however, argue the U.S. has re-established diplomatic ties with other communist governments, such as Vietnam and China.
“There is simply no legitimate justification for restricting any American travel to Cuba. The travel ban, like the rest of the embargo, only bolsters the Cuban government’s control over information and civil society,” they wrote. “Instead of willingly restricting the liberty of our own citizens, we should be taking every opportunity to flood Cubans with American interaction, with our ideas, with our young people.”
Economic growth in Latin America is expected to outpace U.S. growth, the two senators wrote.
“Rather than isolate Cuba with outdated policies, we have isolated ourselves,” they added.
Over the weekend, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (D), who’s running for the seat again this year, called for the U.S. to abandon its policy toward Cuba.
Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) slammed Crist for his comments and argued Cuba continues violent repression toward its citizens.