Cuban-American Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill joined together Wednesday to rip President Obama’s deal to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, calling it naive, dangerous, and even unconstitutional.
The agreement secured the release of American humanitarian worker Alan Gross, who had been held captive by Cuba for the past five years, as well as an unidentified U.S. intelligence agent.
But the deal also involved the United States releasing three convicted Cuban spies and reestablishing diplomatic ties with the communist nation.
“[T]he 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,” Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said in a statement.
Díaz-Balart, who hails from a prominent Cuban-American family, said the three Cubans who were released were convicted for spying on U.S. military installations. One shot down a U.S. civilian aircraft, killing three Americans and one legal resident, the congressman said.
Obama’s policy changes will “embolden” the Castro dictatorship to continue to oppress its own people, he said. “President Obama's actions are an unconscionable betrayal of America's fundamental values and a profound insult to the oppressed Cuban people.”
Speaking at a news conference at the Capitol, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' Tim Scott takes in .3 million in third quarter MORE (R-Fla.) called the shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba “an illusion” and argued that it was “a lie” to argue that opening up commerce with Cuba would translate into more political freedom for its people.
“What these changes are going to do is they will tighten this regime’s grip on power for decades to come and it will significantly set back the hopes of freedom and democracy for the Cuban people,” said Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
Rubio, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said sources told him Tuesday night there was a deal with Cuba underway, but he wasn’t officially briefed until Wednesday morning when Secretary of State John Kerry called.
Incoming GOP freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) — whose district includes Key West, just 90 miles from Cuba’s shores — said in statements in both English and Spanish that the Castros imprisoned Gross to “extort” the Obama administration. “It worked,” Curbelo said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenHigh-speed rail getting last minute push in Congress Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Fla.), who herself fled Cuba, suggested that Obama’s decision to unilaterally normalize relations with Cuba could be unconstitutional.
“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,” Ros-Lehtinen, a former Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman, said in a statement.
“The White House attempts to normalize relationships with Cuba without the approval of Congress,” she said, “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.”
But not all the criticism came from Republicans. Outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats weigh changes to drug pricing measure to win over moderates Advocates frustrated by shrinking legal migration under Biden Rand Paul blocks quick vote on House-passed B Iron Dome funding MORE (D-N.J.) lashed out at the president, saying the apparent prisoner swap set a “dangerous precedent” and would jeopardize the safety of Americans traveling abroad.
“There is no equivalence between an international aid worker and convicted spies who were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage against our nation,” said Menendez, who is also Cuban-American.
"It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips,” the senator continued. “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."