Calling President Obama “willfully ignorant” and “the worst negotiator” the U.S. has had in decades, Sen. Marco Rubio on Wednesday slammed the administration’s agreement with Cuba to open normal diplomatic relations for the first time in more than 50 years,vowing that the incoming Republican majority in the Senate will try to undo the deal with whatever tools they have at their disposal.
Speaking just minutes after Mr. Obama hailed the deal — predicated on the release of political prisoners by both nations — Mr. Rubio, a Cuban-American, said the president has let the people of Cuba down by finalizing a “disgraceful” deal that is a major setback for human rights and freedom for the Cuban people.
Moving forward, the Florida Republican said congressional Republicans may block the nomination of a U.S. ambassador to Cuba and could stand in the way of funding for diplomatic facilities on the island.
“I’m committed to doing everything I can to unravel as many of these changes as I can,” he said. “I intend to use every tool at our disposal in the majority [in the Senate] to unravel as many of these changes as possible.”
On the action itself, Mr. Rubio said normalizing relations with Cuba will only allow Cuban President Raul Castro to shore up his power base and continue oppressing his own people, adding that the president’s belief that the move will help the Cuban people is naive.
“This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie — the lie and illusion that more commerce, more access to money and goods will translate to political for the Cuban people,” Mr. Rubio, Florida Republican and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, told reporters. “All this is going to do is give the Castro regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power.”
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The deal announced Wednesday comes as the Cuban government released American aid worker Alan Gross, who had been held for five years. In a separate deal, the U.S. and Cuba released political prisoners, including a U.S. intelligence asset who had been held for two decades, officials said.
Mr. Rubio praised the release of Mr. Gross and said he is grateful to have him home.
But the broader agreement, the senator said, is a mistake of huge proportions.
“It is just another concession to a tyranny by the Obama administration rather than a defense of every universal and unalienable right that our country stands for … It will significantly set back the hopes of freedom and democracy for the Cuban people,” he said. “It is disgraceful for a president who claims to treasure human rights and human freedom. This president is the single worst negotiator we have had in the White House in my lifetime.”