By Jordan Fabian - 12/17/15 11:54 AM EST
President Obama is using Thursday’s one-year anniversary of his historic detente with Cuba to renew his call on Congress lift the U.S.’s longstanding trade embargo against the communist island nation.
“Congress can support a better life for the Cuban people by lifting an embargo that is a legacy of a failed policy,” he said in a statement.
“Change does not happen overnight, and normalization will be a long journey,” he said. “The last 12 months, however, are a reminder of the progress we can make when we set the course toward a better future.”
The president is defending his decision to end the U.S. policy of isolation toward Cuba, which has prompted fierce criticism from Republicans — and some Democrats — that he is aiding the repressive government of Cuban President Raúl Castro.
Obama and his aides have pointed to signs of progress. Just this week, the U.S. and Cuba agreed to reestablish regular commercial airline travel and direct postal service after 50 years of stoppages.
This summer, the governments of both countries reopened embassies in Washington and Havana. Obama has acted to loosen travel restrictions and relax bans on economic activity within Cuba.
Obama this week expressed interest in traveling to Cuba before the end of his presidency. But he said he would only make the trip if human rights conditions improve on the island.
Many disputes have prevented both countries from fully turning over a new leaf. Obama’s critics have noted Castro continues to crack down on pro-democracy dissidents and the Cuban government has vociferously protested the U.S. embargo.
The U.S. and Cuba have also sparred about property disputes, the status of the American military base at Guantanamo Bay and the status of fugitives.
“The first year of President Obama’s Cuba policy has been like the rest of his foreign policy: a disaster that prioritizes legacy-shaping headlines over freedom and results, treats our enemies far better than our allies, and negotiates deals from a position of weakness,” Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioThe Trail 2016: An important lesson in geography Clinton takes aim at Rubio in Florida rally Dem Senate hopeful dodges leaked Clinton emails at debate MORE (R-Fla.), a Cuban-American, said in a statement.
Obama urged critics to have patience with his policy. And he said that engaging with the Cuban government is a better way of resolving disputes than continuing to cut them off.
“We are advancing our shared interests and working together on complex issues that for too long defined — and divided — us,” he said.
“We continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but we raise those issues directly, and we will always stand for human rights and the universal values that we support around the globe.”