Many but not all in GOP object as US, Cuba plan embassies
BY ALAN FRAM
Loud but hardly universal catcalls from Republicans underscored the
obstacles and opportunities ahead as U.S. and Cuban leaders announced an
opening of embassies in Havana and Washington and a resumption of
diplomatic relations severed the year President Barack Obama was born.
Obama also called on Congress to lift the economic and travel embargoes
that the U.S. has used for decades in an attempt to force Cuba’s leaders
toward democracy. Obama has partly eased those restrictions on his own,
but continued opposition from many Republicans and some Democrats makes
it unlikely that lawmakers will fully revoke those bans quickly.
Labeling the moment “a choice between the future and the past,” Obama on
Wednesday revealed the latest steps in a half-year of rapid-fire
improvements in relations between two nations that lie 90 miles apart
but have spent nearly six decades separated by light years
diplomatically and economically.
“There are those who want to turn back the clock and double down on a
policy of isolation,” Obama said in the White House Rose Garden. “But
it’s long past time for us to realize that this approach doesn’t work.”
In an exchange of notes with Cuban President Raul Castro, the two
governments said that on July 20 they will open embassies in each
other’s capitals that have been shuttered since 1961. That is when
President Dwight Eisenhower broke relations with the communist regime of
Raul’s brother, Fidel Castro, setting the tone for decades of Cold War
hostility that included failed U.S.-backed efforts to overthrow the
island nation’s leaders.
Many Republicans said Obama had made the wrong move.
“Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone
normalized, until Cubans enjoy freedom,” said House Speaker John
Other congressional critics included Cuban-American lawmakers like Rep.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. He described
the thaw as “incentivizing a police state to uphold a policy of
brutality” to its own citizens.
But at a time when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, agriculture groups and
other business organizations have backed moves toward liberalizing trade
with Cuba, some Republicans were more positive.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., cited “numerous opportunities mutually
beneficial to the people of both countries,” while Sen. Jeff Flake,
R-Ariz., said it was time to abandon “five decades of failure.”
Gradually growing GOP support strengthens Obama’s hand to continue
removing barriers with Cuba on his own, “even if Congress doesn’t do the
heavy lifting,” said Julia Sweig, a Cuba specialist and senior research
fellow at the University of Texas in Austin.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., issued no new statement
on Obama’s announcement. In recent months, he has expressed support for
critics of the president’s effort to improve relations with Cuba.
Strongly negative comments came from contenders for the GOP 2016
presidential nomination. Their contest is dominated by conservative
voters and promises a strong turnout from anti-Castro Cuban-Americans
living in the pivotal state of Florida.
The strong opposition from those who could lead the GOP in next year’s
presidential and congressional elections makes it harder for many
Republicans to embrace Obama’s actions.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush saw Obama’s announcement as “further
legitimizing the brutal Castro regime.” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.,
accused the president of making “unilateral concessions to this odious
And Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, accused Obama of “continuing his policy of
unconditional surrender” to what he called “one of the most violently
anti-American regimes on the planet.”
Rubio and Cruz, both Cuban-Americans, said they would block any effort
by Obama to win Senate confirmation of a U.S. ambassador to Cuba, which
normally occurs when nations commence full diplomatic relations.
While many congressional Republicans were likely to oppose large
expenditures to improve relations with Cuba, the administration may be
able to use smaller amounts to buttress its diplomatic presence there.
Obama has requested $6 million to upgrade the current, lower-level U.S.
outpost there “to embassy status to handle more extensive operations.”
Congressional aides said that even without specific approval from
lawmakers, the State Department could well access that money because
agencies can unilaterally shift relatively small amounts among their
Though it’s not yet law, the GOP-led House Appropriations Committee
approved foreign aid legislation last month barring work on a U.S.
Embassy in Cuba unless Obama certifies that Havana is meeting the terms
of a 1996 statute aimed at fostering democracy in Cuba. That includes
extraditing people wanted in the U.S. for crimes.
The Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee plans to write
its version of the aid measure next week.
Since the two countries’ surprise revelation last December that they
would move toward normal relations, they have taken gradual steps in
In January, the U.S. lifted some travel curbs on Americans and began
permitting U.S. companies to export telephones and computers to Cuba. In
May, the administration removed Cuba from the list of countries
Yet divisions remain.
The U.S. remains focused on Cuba’s reputed human rights violations. Cuba
wants an end to the U.S. economic embargo, the return of the U.S.
military base at Guantanamo Bay and a halt to U.S. broadcasts aimed at
Source: Many but not all in GOP object as US, Cuba plan embassies |
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