- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Republican lawmakers blasted President Barack Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba on Thursday, saying it will only serve to empower the communist nation that’s been ruled by a dictatorship since 1959.

Republican members of the House Local & Federal Affairs Committee speaking before a nearly empty meeting room gave forceful speeches in support of a three-page message expressing the will of the Legislature they hope to send to Obama and congressional leaders. The 8-4 vote to send the message was along party lines.

The message expresses “profound disagreement” with the president’s decision in December to restore relations with Cuba.

“The Cuban people have been under the crushing yoke of a brutal communist dictatorship since 1959, led first by Fidel Castro and more recently by his brother Raul,” it reads. “The actions of the Castro brothers have resulted in the impoverishment of the Cuban people and a complete and blatant disregard for human rights and democratic principles.”

Before the vote, Republican Rep. Neil Combee of Auburndale said he was born the same year Fidel and Raul Castro’s revolution succeeded and told committee members to look how he’s aged.

“Fifty-five years is a long time. … For 55 years we have had essentially one-man rule,” Combee said. “It’s outrageous. It makes me sick. It breaks my heart. As a lover of liberty and freedom, I think about this all the time.”

Republicans said the president’s decision will only help the Castros and won’t bring human rights to Cuba.

“If we do not stop the president or let him know this is not the right path, that dictatorship will grow and get more powerful,” said Republican Rep. Jimmie Smith of Inverness.

But Democratic Rep. Kristin Jacobs of Coconut Creek said that the longstanding embargo has failed and that U.S. policy needed to change.

“We can look back and see 56 years of a policy that has not yielded the results that we hoped that it would have,” Jacobs said. “The president acted rightly.”

The message still has to be approved by the House State Affairs Committee before going to a full House vote. The Senate has introduced a similar message.

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Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bsfarrington

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