Cuban officials can’t figure out what’s up with Gov. Chris Christie’s (R-N.J.) opposition to re-opening relations between their nation and his, and Christie can’t imagine why President Obama ever considered doing a deal with Cuba without demanding more in return.
Well, maybe he can.
“It is typical of this president, unfortunately, in negotiations. The Iranian nuclear deals extended six months at a time over and over and over again while they continue to move toward a nuclear capability,” Christie told New Jersey Public Television.
“Now we normalize relations with Cuba without getting anything in return? We have a hostage exchange and that’s what we get in return?” he added.
Ever the shrewd negotiator, and possible GOP presidential primary candidate, Christie knows what he would have wanted from Cuba if he was in the Oval Office.
“We for 50 years have demanded that they have free elections, that they open the Internet, that they allow political prisoners to be released,” Christie said. “None of those things happened.”
But that is not all. For Gov. Christie, this is more than an unwillingness to put aside Cold War animosity.
Christie also wants the late rapper Tupac Shakur’s godmother and aunt.
That’s right. Christie wants Tupac Shakur’s godmother, Joanne Chesimard, who goes by the name Assata Shakur.
She is more than the living ancestor of an American music industry icon. Ms. Shakur is also living in political asylum in Cuba.
Shakur broke out of prison and fled to Cuba after being convicted of murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster.
Christie wants her back. U.S. officials do, too; she’s on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list. They have been trying to get Shakur extradited for decades to no avail.
Christie said Obama must have known about that, and should have made Shakur’s return to the United States part of his grand bargain with the Castro regime.
“Joanne Chesimard, a cold-blooded cop-killer, convicted by a jury of her peers, in what is without question the fairest and most just criminal justice system in the world – certainly much more just than anything that’s happened in Cuba under the Castro brothers – she is now, according to an official of the Cuban government, persecuted,” Christie said.
A representative of the Cuban government, Josefina Vidal, confirmed for the Associated Press that the Obama administration did not ask for the return of the convicted cop killer. Vidal also said she doesn’t understand why Christie is pressing so hard for the extradition.
Governors Bobby Jindal (R) of Louisiana and Rick Scott (R) of Florida have also trashed Obama’s executive action regarding Cuba.
Jindal said he was “happy” that Alan Gross — a contractor from the U.S. whose release was at the center of the agreement — was freed.
However, like Christie, Jindal doesn’t think the U.S. got enough because Obama didn’t ask or demand enough.
“This is just one more sign that shows the president has no strategy for leading on an international stage. His policy of appeasement toward Cuba and other threats is endangering national security and the American people,” Jindal said in a written statement.
Jindal, another possible presidential contender, said the Obama administration was negotiating from a strategy of appeasement that only rewarded “a Communist dictatorship…that takes political prisoners and completely disregards basic human dignity.”
“Negotiations like these confuse our friends and reward our enemies. Ruthless dictators like Assad, Putin and Castro think Obama is an easy mark and will be sorry to see him go,” Jindal added.
Scott and Florida Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera issued statements showing they were as outraged as Jindal and Christie.
While Scott said he, too, was pleased with the release of Gross, he described the U.S. agreement to release a few Cuban spies “unconscionable.”
“Time and time again, the Castro regime has chosen violence and suppression over freedom and democracy, and the Obama administration’s actions of appeasement to dictators diminish the United States’ role of being a beacon for democracy,” Scott said.
“As long as Cuba chooses dictatorship over democracy, I will continue to support the embargo and sanctions against them. President Obama is giving in to a tyrannical government that does not value human rights and completely disregards the people of Cuba who are fighting for democracy,” he added.
Lopez-Cantera has even more skin in the game than Scott.
Lopez-Cantera is a Cuban-American.
He said the Obama-Cuba agreement set a “dangerous precedent for rogue nations who know they can take American hostages at will.”
“Cuba has a brutal dictatorship and the Obama administration’s actions only legitimize their oppressive behavior and make it harder for the people of Cuba who are fighting for democracy,” said Lopez-Cantera.
However, Lopez-Cantera’s outrage may be the voice of a minority of opinion among Cuban-Americans in Florida, at least those on the younger side of the demographic scale.
Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute has released a study that shows 88 percent of young Cuban-Americans (18-29 years of age) support normalizing relations with Cuba.
However, the older a survey respondent was, the more he or she remembered what it was like when Castro took over Cuba.
The survey shows only 41 percent of Cuban-Americans 65 years of age and older support normalizing relations.
Lee Sentell, the director of the Alabama Tourism Department, takes a much more mercenary view of the Obama-Cuba deal.
AL.com reports Sentell is just hoping that cruise ships will someday soon be able to run from Mobile, Ala., to Havana, and the Alabama Cruise Terminal that has been closed in Mobile since 2011 can reopen.
Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (D), who tried to unseat Rick Scott in November, agreed with Sentell that there is economic potential in the Cuban accord for the Gulf Coast states.
“You talk about housing changes, schooling, infrastructure, the natural launching pad for much of that redevelopment is the state of Florida,” Crist told CBS News.
“This rebuilding and modernizing of the country will have a great impact on the Cuban people,” Crist said, and that is a main reason why he is fully supportive of Obama’s action. “The changes that can take place, that can improve the quality of life of everyday Cubans can be extraordinary and exceptional, and I hope that it is.”
12/26 11:45 a.m.: This story has been updated to correct the familial relationship between Joanne Chesimard and Tupac Shakur