Rep. Rangel praises action from Havana

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) praised President Obama's announcement to push for a normalization of ties with Cuba while on an unrelated trip to Havana.

"I have never been more proud of being an American. The Cuban people are dancing in the street," Rangel said in an interview from Cuba with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday afternoon.

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The veteran Democrat said he was in Cuba for a medical association meeting regarding diabetes treatment, but noted he was with other congressional lawmakers who also support normalization of U.S.-Cuba ties. 

"They said, don't talk about it, something's going to happen," Rangel said on CNN. 

While he said he has met with Cuban President Raúl Castro in the past, Rangel said it wasn't on his schedule to meet with him this trip. However, the lawmaker did say he had met with others in the Castro administration. 

Rangel acknowledged opposition to Obama's announcement, including strong criticism from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the son of Cuban immigrants, who said Obama "conceded everything" to Castro.

"In any event, we're moving forward, it's all good, it's all positive, and the people will be speaking from the streets of Havana, New York, in California, in Miami, and I think that that's the best cure for the relationship that's been so poor for the last half a century," Rangel said. 

News of changes to U.S.-Cuba policy has been met with mixed reactions, such as in Miami's Little Havana, where hardliners protested the Obama's action as a concession to the Castro regime while finding some solace in the release of captured USAID worker Alan Gross as well as a top U.S. intelligence agent. 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) criticized Obama for trading Gross for three "convicted criminals," saying the president “vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government" in a move that "sets an extremely dangerous precedent."

Asked whether the prisoner swap would encourage other nations or groups to capture Americans, Rangel said in an interview on MSNBC's "Ronan Farrow Daily" it would generally unite the western hemisphere against terrorist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

"I mean, do we really think the Cuban people are part of the terrorism that's taking place in the Middle East? I think not. I think America thinks that. I think the president thinks not," Rangel said. 

"We collectively have to decide how we are going to battle terrorism and there's no way in the world that you're going to say that Cuba is a terrorist government."