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Three Big Questions for Marco Rubio on Cuba

Ric Herrero

#CubaNow Press Release

Apr 13, 2015

MIAMI – As Marco Rubio prepares to announce his candidacy for president from the Freedom Tower, where Cuban exiles were processed when they first arrived in Miami in the years following the 1959 revolution, it’s important to highlight the inconsistencies in his position on Cuba. A politician whose team proudly embraced the nickname the “Three Percent Club” during the early days of his Senate race, that percentage could now just as easily apply to his open and direct opposition to the 97% of Cubans on the Island who support normalization of relations between our two countries. It also puts him firmly on the wrong side of the vast majority of Americans who agree it’s time to open up engagement with the Island. So specifically on the issue of Cuba, there are three big questions—and followups—that should be asked of Mr. Rubio today:

1. How do you reconcile your position on Cuba with the fact that the vast majority of Americans—including Latinos—and 97% of Cubans support normalization and acknowledge that the embargo has failed? Are you concerned about taking the 3% theme a bit too far? Whose opinions matter when it comes to Cuba?

“A new poll released just over a week ago and conducted from inside Cuba found that 97% of Cubans on the island support normalization and 96% want to see the embargo ended.” [Washington Post, “Poll shows vast majority of Cubans welcome closer ties with U.S.,” 4/8/2015]

Polls of Americans, including Cuban-Americans, have consistently shown large majorities also support normalization and ending travel and trade restrictions on Americans. 59% of all Americans and 56% of Latinos in an MSNBC/Telemundo poll this week; while a recent Benenson Strategy Group poll showed support from 71% of registered voters in the U.S., and nearly two-thirds wanting Congress to end the embargo -- including 51% of Republicans.

2. How do you reconcile your position on Cuba with your position on China, given that you’ve sent senior aides on junkets paid for by the Chinese government and defended it by claiming in a statement that engagement is “sometimes necessary in helping advance our advocacy on a host of foreign policy issues”? Is Cuba any different? Or is it just a politically easier stance to take?

With a headline reading, “Chinese government pays for trip by aides to Rubio, Ros-Lehtinen,” the Tampa Bay Times’ Alex Leary reported in August of 2014 that Marco Rubio had sent high level staff “on an all expenses paid trip to China this month courtesy of the Chinese government.” According to that investigative report, the trips “are a popular perk on Capitol Hill and come with luxury hotel stays and visits to top tourist sites, including the Great Wall. The cost can exceed $10,000 a person. The Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen connection stands out because of their strong anti-Communism views. Both Cuban-American lawmakers have condemned the human rights records of China and Cuba and have opposed efforts to lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba. They also regularly criticize people who have gone to Cuba.”

When confronted by the newspaper, Rubio had his spokesman defend the trip citing China’s size and economic presence on the world stage. Stunningly, the spokesman also said that Rubio “recognizes that staff travel approved by the U.S. government and Senate ethics is sometimes necessary in helping advance our advocacy on a host of foreign policy issues." [Tampa Bay Times, “Chinese government pays for trip by aides to Rubio, Ros-Lehtinen,” 8/29/2014]

The message seemed to be that engagement and travel to communist dictatorships is not just ok but necessary, because it helps us promote our values. Of course that contradicts his position on Cuba. Hard to reconcile for someone running for President touting foreign policy credentials.

3. Are you concerned that your campaign theme of “A New American Century” clashes with your position on Cuba that seemingly seeks to return relations to the last century, no matter what the American people think? Do you expect any backlash from Cuban-Americans who worry you might take away their right to visit and support their families in Cuba? You’ve said that you only care about democracy and human rights in Cuba—how do you to expect to foster them with the same failed policy of the last five decades?

According to press reports, Rubio’s campaign theme will be “A New American Century,” even as he calls for returning Cuba policy to a Cold War mindset from the second half of the 20th Century. The old-world approach was encapsulated in a statement Mr. Rubio made to press following the announcement on December 17th that the United States government would pursue normalization of relations with Cuba. Mr. Rubio told reporters, “I don't care if the polls say 99 percent of people in Florida want to lift the embargo. I would still be for (keeping) it.” [CNBC, “Rubio: No dough for embassy in Havana,” 12/17/2014]