On Friday, a major piece of news came from the White House, when President Barack Obama moved to further normalize of the United States’ relationship with Cuba.
Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio was quick to condemn Obama’s latest moves toward rapprochement with the Castro regime, guaranteeing this foreign policy move will resonate in Florida politics for days, if not weeks, to come.
A 12-page presidential policy directive details the scope of the changes, which have been summed up by various media outlets as amounting to little more than being able to bring cigars and rum back from the island nation 90 miles off of the American coast.
Obama, who began concrete moves toward this end in 2014, outlined the goals of the directive.
“Endogenous changes underway in Cuba offer opportunities to advance U.S. interests and shift away from an embargo, which is an outdated burden on the Cuban people and has impeded U.S. interests. My administration has repeatedly called on the Congress to lift the embargo,” the directive asserts.
Policy is, the directive continued, “designed to create economic opportunities for the Cuban people; promote respect for human rights; further advances on regional security and defense issues, such as health, law enforcement, and migration; and pursue cooperation with the Cuban government that can strengthen our leadership in the hemisphere.”
All the while, Cuba’s “sovereignty and self-determination” is respected, at least by the executive branch.
“Medium-term goals,” broadly summed up, include increasing intergovernmental engagement, with an eye toward helping Cuba deal with dual crises: an aging population, and an economic system not integrated with the world at large. The White House position sees economic and human rights reforms as integral to the process, and since the relaxation of the American posture earlier in Obama’s second term, there has been more commercial interest in Cuba, extending to commercial flights going from Florida cities to the island.
In a statement from the White House, President Obama said “the Departments of Treasury and Commerce issued further regulatory changes today, building on the progress made over the last two years, to continue to facilitate more interaction between the Cuban and American people, including through travel and commercial opportunities, and more access to information.”
“These changes are representative of the progress I saw firsthand when I visited Havana to personally extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. The quick flight over 90 miles of blue water belied the real barriers of the past that were crossed that day, but my interactions with everyday Cubans told a promising story of neighbors working to build broader ties of cooperation across the Americas,” Obama added.
While “challenges remain — and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights … I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values,” Obama continued.
Republicans will object to this over the course of the day, but the first Republican to object officially is a high-profile scion of the Sunshine State: Sen. Marco Rubio.
As one would expect, he was not mollified by these moves toward “normalization.”
“The Obama administration is making more concessions to the Castro regime, and the United States is getting nothing in return. Cash makes the Castro regime’s grip on power stronger, its repression harsher and its exportation of misery throughout the hemisphere, especially Venezuela, easier,” Rubio asserted, before condemning the corporate class and the executive branch for colluding in favor of the Castro regime.
“The Obama administration, in collusion with American companies, is now responsible for essentially bankrolling a communist dictatorship which works each day to undermine America’s security and national interests. By encouraging U.S. companies to do business with Cuban military-owned entities, the Obama administration is giving them an open invitation to violate existing U.S. law,” Rubio continued, before pivoting to a slam of the larger Obama Cuba policy.
“After two years of President Obama’s Cuba policy, the Castro regime has made out like bandits and received numerous concessions from the U.S. without lifting a finger to return the fugitives it is harboring from American justice, pay Americans for their stolen property, or allow the Cuban people to exercise their God-given freedoms. Today’s announcement reaffirms the fact that President Obama’s Cuba policy puts the Castro regime’s interests first, profits ahead of America’s national security, and the Cuban people’s rights and dignity dead last,” Rubio concluded.
Expect GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump to exploit the Obama opening to Cuba later in this news cycle, setting into motion a barrage of point/counterpoint attacks between the Senate campaigns of incumbent Marco Rubio and challenger Rep. Patrick Murphy.
This will prove, yet again, the intertwined nature of politics in Florida and America’s Cuba policy.