Marco Rubio: I will absolutely roll back Obama Cuba policy
Exclusive: Republican presidential candidate claims White House is
violating the law, telling the Guardian he would freeze relations with
Sabrina Siddiqui in Davenport, Iowa
Friday 10 July 2015 12.19 BST Last modified on Friday 10 July 2015 16.03 BST
Barack Obama’s historic policy shift toward Cuba would be short-lived
under a Marco Rubio presidency, the Florida senator has told the
Guardian, one week after the White House made the final major step in
renewing diplomatic ties with the Castro regime.
Rubio, a top contender for the Republican nomination for president, said
he would “absolutely” reverse the unilateral steps Obama has taken thus
far to normalize relations between the two countries – including closing
down the embassies that are slated to open on 20 July – if he is elected
to the White House in 2016.
“In fact, I think they’re in violation of the law,” Rubio said during an
interview at the tail end of a three-day campaign swing through Iowa.
“The statute passed by Congress specifically prohibits many of the
things he [Obama]’s now undertaking. It says those things can only
happen after certain conditions have been met, none of which have been
met. As president, I will follow the law.”
Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, has been the leading opponent in the
US Congress of Obama’s overtures to the island nation.
Ever since the president announced in December that the US would end a
half-century diplomatic freeze with Cuba, Rubio has publicly castigated
the administration at every turn – be it the lifting of certain
commercial and travel sanctions, the removal of Cuba from a list of
state sponsors of terrorism, and Obama’s announcement last week on the
reopening of embassies between Washington and Havana.
In addition to saying he would reverse those steps, Rubio also defended
his steadfast opposition to lifting the 50-year-old US trade embargo on
Cuba – which critics argue has taken a significant humanitarian toll on
the Cuban people while doing little to deter the grip on power of the
Opponents of the embargo, Rubio said, “fundamentally misunderstand” its
“The purpose of the embargo was not to overthrow Fidel Castro – that’s
what the Bay of Pigs was about, that’s what Operation Mongoose was
about, but not the embargo,” Rubio said, referring to the failed
missions under President John F Kennedy in the early 1960s to help the
Cuban people overthrow the communist regime.
The intent of the sanctions, Rubio argued, was to protect the property
of Americans and other private owners and prevent stolen goods from
being trafficked into the United States as well as to serve as leverage
against the Castros.
“We could have used, and can use, economic sanctions through the embargo
as a leverage to gain democratic concessions and openings for the Cuban
people in exchange for alleviating some of these conditions, especially
the diplomatic recognition and the removal of Cuba from the state
sponsor of terrorism list,” Rubio said. “The Cubans have basically
achieved all of those concessions and in return have done nothing to
change … The only thing that will change is the amount of money the
regime will have access to.”
Jeb Bush, regarded as one of Rubio’s main rivals in a crowded pathway to
the Republican nomination for president, has similarly opposed the Obama
administration’s Cuba policy but offered a less definitive response when
asked if he would allow a US embassy in Havana to remain open.
“Probably not,” Bush, a former governor of Florida, told the editorial
board of the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper this week. “I haven’t
given thought about undoing a work in progress.”
Rubio has pledged to oppose whoever Obama nominates as ambassador to
Cuba – a post that must be confirmed by the US Senate, where he sits on
the influential foreign relations committee. Republican lawmakers in
Washington have also refused to take up Obama’s request to lift the
trade embargo, which requires an act of Congress.
Rubio’s unwavering position on US policy toward Cuba is a point of
contrast in a presidential campaign built on the notion that he is a
next-generation leader with fresh ideas to usher in what he has dubbed
“a new American century”.
In seven stops this week through different parts of the early
battleground state of Iowa, the earliest-voting state in the primaries,
the 44-year-old senator sought to convince voters that he is the
candidate of the future while declaring that “yesterday is over” – an
implicit dig both a Bush and at Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
But those in favor of rapprochement in US-Cuba relations see the 50-year
policy upheld until Obama’s reversal late last year as decidedly
antiquated, and at odds with recent decades of bipartisan support for
liberalizing international trade with the express purpose of expanding
political and economic opportunity around the world.
Rubio himself referred to two such examples – China and Vietnam – in a
Wednesday op-ed in the New York Times, but to make a counterpoint: that
despite the opening up of economic pathways, both China and Vietnam
remain notorious violators of basic human rights.
Asked if he believed the US should then no longer engage in trade with
China or Vietnam, Rubio conceded there was a “geopolitical reality” that
set the two apart from Cuba – especially with respect to China.
“It’s the second largest economy in the world, it has nuclear weapons,
it’s the second largest military or the third largest on the planet,” he
said. “There’s a reality there that doesn’t exist with Cuba that we have
to address. It just is what it is – we have to balance geopolitical
Rubio added that concessions to China had nonetheless forced the US to
go silent on human rights abuses there, and his broader point was that
China, Vietnam and Burma disproved the argument that economic engagement
will pave the way for a political transformation.
“It is proof that economic engagement alone does not lead a reluctant
tyranny to open up democratically,” Rubio said, before identifying the
biggest difference, in his view, in the analogy. “China’s half a world
away, Vietnam is half a world away – Cuba is 90 miles from our shores.
It is not in the national security interest of the United States to have
a communist, anti-American tyranny 90 miles from our shores.”
He said prerequisites necessary for him to consider engagement with Cuba
would be free and fair elections, independence of the media, the right
to organize political parties, freedom of assembly, and the release of
Rubio further referenced reports of a crackdown last weekend in which
nearly a hundred peaceful activists were detained by Cuban authorities,
and prominent activist Antonio G Rodiles was beaten, to underscore his
point that engagement at this juncture was futile.
The reports of the arrests were confirmed by the State Department
earlier this week. A spokesman expressed concern, but argued that such
behavior further reinforced “the need to move forward” with restoring
Obama acknowledged in his own remarks last week that “very serious
differences” will continue between the two countries on freedom of
speech and assembly, and access to information, while proposing
engagement as the means through which change can occur.
“Nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight,” Obama said in his
speech on the reopening of embassies. “But I believe that American
engagement through our embassy, our businesses and most of all through
our people, is our best way to advance our interests and support for
democracy and human rights.”
Although the president did not mention Rubio by name, he criticized
Republicans who have rejected his approach. Obama cited public opinion
in both the US and Cuba showing a majority support for re-establishing
ties, and urged Republicans to “listen to the Cuban people, the American
Asked for his response to polling putting the public at odds with his
view – which includes a majority of Americans, as well as Cuban
Americans, and residents of Cuba – Rubio was unfazed.
“I don’t ever believe a president should conduct foreign policy on the
basis of polls,” he said. “A president’s supposed to lead. A president’s
supposed to do what’s right for the country even if it isn’t popular,
particularly when it comes to national security issues. A president
needs to view things with a 20-, a 10- and a 5-year outlook, not what’s
immediately gratifying. One of the biggest failures of this
administration is that it’s tried to use foreign policy for domestic
Rubio added that the opinion of Americans would shift if they were more
informed on the implications of opening up ties with Cuba, which he said
would be an “economic opening to the Cuban regime [that] controls the
Although Rubio did not raise in detail his stance on Cuba while courting
several packed rooms across Iowa this week, he drew heavily on his
personal story, as he has since declaring his candidacy for the White
House. He recounted how his parents left Cuba in the 1956 in search of a
Their realization of the American Dream – Rubio’s father worked as a
bartender and his mother a maid – is what set the United States apart
from the place his parents once called home he said.
The senator launched his presidential campaign in April from the Freedom
Tower in Miami, Florida, which served for more than a decade starting in
the early 1960s as the first stop for Cuban exiles seeking asylum in the
Cuban Americans living in Florida who are registered Republicans
continue to overwhelmingly oppose Obama’s new Cuba policy.
“That combination has been steadfastly anti-Castro and pro-embargo,”
said Dr. Gregory Weeks, an expert on Latin America who heads the
political science department at the University of North Carolina at
Charlotte. “This is how Cuban-American Republicans have been for many,
many years and something that is very only slowly changing. That’s how
[Rubio has] developed politically. He also sees that as part of a
package that includes relations with Iran, Russia and dealing with Isis,
indicative of what he believes is a broader weakness of Obama’s foreign
But unravelling the steps the administration has already taken would be
politically risky, according to Richard Feinberg, a senior fellow at the
Brookings Institution and an architect of the first Summit of the Americas.
“Latin America as a whole would be outraged. It would be incredibly
costly for Rubio’s US policies throughout the region,” Feinberg said.
“Two years from now it’s going to be difficult for any Republican to
completely reverse the initiative of this administration.”
Source: Marco Rubio: I will absolutely roll back Obama Cuba policy | US
news | The Guardian –