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Not Even Embassies Can Escape The Rubio-Menendez Double Standard

David Gomez

#CubaNow Blog Post

Jul 2, 2015

As more and more people pay attention to the renewal of U.S.-Cuba relations, it’s hard to imagine what a strange sight it must be for them to see some politicians suddenly treating embassies as the equivalent of gift baskets. 

Two senators in particular yesterday continued to insist on a double standard when it comes to U.S. Cuba policy—a double standard we’ve highlighted before. “It is time for our unilateral concessions to this odious regime to end,” said Sen. Marco Rubio. "This is the only government in the Western Hemisphere, which the Obama administration has chosen to establish relations with, that is not elected by its citizens,” fumed Sen. Bob Menendez in his peculiarly qualified response. 

Let’s be real, if the U.S. and Cuba announced tomorrow they’d reached an agreement that the sky was blue, the same people would be shaking their heads at it as yet another concession to the Castros. Only in the realm of hardliner policy is an increased diplomatic presence on the Island considered a “unilateral concession.”

As a State Department official explained yesterday following the announcement: 

The travel by our diplomats will be much, much more free and flexible than it is now. It will be a form of ability to travel and talk to people that we’ve not had in the past, and it is similar to the kinds of arrangements we have in other countries that have restricted environments – better than in some places, not as good as in others – but considerably better than we have now in terms of our ability to get out and about and talk to people.” 

Talk about a “concession!” Having more American diplomats reaching out to talk to more of the Cuban people than ever is really giving away the farm. 

If there was any doubt about the politics in play over these statements, try to find the same people making the embassy-as-a-concession argument anywhere else. Here’s Senator Menendez not even a year ago criticizing the holdup of ambassador appointments to Saudi Arabia and Qatar—no beacons of democracy themselves: 

"We must lift up our Ambassadors and their families, not put them down. These individuals are serving our nation and their families are sacrificing for our nation. They deserve better. Our career Foreign Service Officers serve Democratic and Republican presidents - and they should not - the must not -- be treated as political pawns. We cannot continue to allow the pulpits where we preach American values to remain vacant. No nation can listen to us if we are not present to speak. American leadership can only occur if American leaders are present on the international stage. And the Senate standoff that has left so many career foreign service nominees in political and personal limbo is damaging our credibility, undermining our national security, and it must end now." 

And Senator Rubio, speaking last year to the ambassadorial nominee to the most powerful and unelected Communist government on Earth

“Congratulations. Your appointment comes at a pretty exciting time and place in terms of the issues that are going on in regards to China. Their growth and their economy and in their influence in the world is really an amazing development to watch from a historical perspective. And by the way, I would just share, as I did with you on the phone when we spoke about this, I don't, and I think the President has said this, our policy isn't to contain China. On the contrary, I think we see a growing economy that we can be trade partners with, a billion people we can sell our products and our services to.

  

I think you'll find broad consensus on this committee and I hope in the administration, that our embassy should be viewed as an ally of those within Chinese society that are looking to express their fundamental rights to speak out and to worship freelyetc.” 

If these two Senators hold the views that Americans can’t lead unless they show up, that embassies are, as Rubio would refer to them, “islands of freedom” in otherwise adverse countries, what makes Cuba so different?  What is it about the Island that makes the increased presence of Americans—whether diplomats or private citizens—an appeasement? Why is the belief that “no nation can listen to us if we are not present to speak” not applicable to the country 90 miles off our shores? They’re questions a lot of Americans and Cubans are asking these days—ones they’ll be owed answers to when the Senate debates the first ambassador to the Island in decades.