Menendez questions N.J. legislators’ trip to Cuba
on January 31, 2016 at 4:31 PM, updated January 31, 2016 at 8:04 PM
ASBURY PARK — U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez on Sunday questioned a recent
trip 10 state lawmakers made to Cuba, expressing concern that anyone
would conduct business with that government’s dictatorship.
“Look, I don’t know what their itinerary was but the reality is when I
hear people talking about business with Cuba … it seems to me like the
highest priority should be about human rights and democracy,” Menendez
(D-N.J.) told NJ Advance Media following a press conference in Asbury
Park about offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.
An outspoken critic of President Obama’s Cuba policy, Menendez said he’s
spent time talking to Cuban citizens and exiles who’ve told him
conditions there haven’t improved for the Cuban people.
He questioned whether the lawmakers on the trip did the same
“So, I don’t know whether that was any part of it, but I doubt they met
with human rights activists, political dissidents and independent
journalists,” he said.
10 N.J. legislators face fuss for unauthorized Cuba trip
State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said he only learned about the
visit from critics who saw a story in a Cuban government-owned news website
The Assembly of New Jersey did not sanction the trip, state Assembly
Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) previously told NJ Advance Media. The
Assemblyman who organized the trip, Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), said
everyone who attended the $2,000 trip paid with their own money, and
made arrangements directly with a tour company run by the Cuban government.
Given the Castro regime and its refusal to hand over convicted
cop-killer Joanne Chesimard, Menendez wondered why anyone would pick
Cuba as a destination.
“Of all the places in the world you could go to try and create good
relations and business opportunities, Cuba is just not one at this time
because you have a regime that is unrepentant, unwilling to open up,
unwilling to permit basic human rights and democracy, and one that if
you want to do business with, you’re going to do business with an
oppressive regime,” said Menendez, whose parents left the communist country.
He said since President Obama decided to reverse 50 years of U.S.
government policy and restore relations with Cuba, the Castro regime has
become “more emboldened” because of the resources it’s receiving from
the United States.
The attendees of the trip included Assemblymen Gordon Johnson
(D-Bergen), Tim Eustace (D-Bergen), Paul Moriarity (D-Gloucester), John
Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), Assemblywomen Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen),
Cleopatra Tucker (D-Essex), and Sheila Oliver (D-Essex), and state Sens.
Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) and Nia Gill (D-Essex).
Gusciora said the lawmakers on the trip prodded Cuban officials to turn
over Chesimard, who fled to Cuba after breaking out from prison in 1979.
Chesimard, who is on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list, was convicted
in the shooting death of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973.
The 10 lawmakers spent three days in the communist country and returned
to opposition from several angry Cuban exiles in New Jersey, who are
demanding Prieto condemn the trip.
Prieto, who was born in Cuba, said he wasn’t pleased about the trip but
stopped short of condemning it.
“As I said I would not authorize them going as a delegation but I cannot
say anything about them going as U.S. citizens,” he said. “That is one
of the freedoms we have here that is not available to the Cubans in Cuba.”
— NJ Advance Media reporter Susan K. Livio contributed to this report
Alex Napoliello may be reached at email@example.com. Follow
him on Twitter @alexnapoNJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
Source: Menendez questions N.J. legislators’ trip to Cuba | NJ.com –