While senators such as Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) have vehemently opposed the Obama administration’s rapprochement and concessions toward Cuba, some Republicans have banded together to let President Obama know that they have an eye on lifting the decades-old embargo.
Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — incidentally, the two Senate Republicans likely to vote against the Menendez-Kirk sanctions legislation on Iran — told Obama in a letter that they “have sought reforms to restrictions on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba and the removal of hurdles that hamstring trade.”
“Given the statutory nature of restrictions on activities related to Cuba, real and permanent change to U.S.-Cuba policy will be achieved through successful legislative initiatives,” they wrote.
Flake and Paul were joined on the letter by Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
“That said, recent regulatory reforms to financial restrictions on U.S. exports will increase access to some U.S. agricultural and other products for millions of people in Cuba,” the Republicans continued. “Increasing both the limit on remittance and the types of goods that can be legally exported to the island will lead to increased demand for U.S. commodities. Similarly, the expansion of general licenses for statutorily delineated categories of travel by U.S. citizens will have a similar impact while simultaneously facilitating greater meaningful contact between Americans and everyday Cubans. Our hope is that changes to the current trade and travel relationship will advance our goal of bolstering the vulnerable private sector and increasing entrepreneurship while decreasing the role of state-controlled enterprises.”
“With the significance of your recent announcements related to Cuba, we look forward to Congress turning its attention toward modernizing U.S.-Cuba policy to the benefit of U.S. citizens and the Cuban people alike. Congress must play an integral role in reforming our policy toward Cuba.”
Yesterday, Rubio was officially named chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee. He has vowed to block funding for the opening of a U.S. Embassy in Havana.
But even that could take some time — given an inch, Cuban President Raul Castro is now demanding a mile from the administration before relations are normalized, including the return of Guantanamo, financial compensation, and the lifting of the embargo by Congress.
“I plan to continue to be a voice for the oppressed, whether they be in our own hemisphere or on the other side of the globe,” Rubio said. “I look forward to working to ensure that U.S. programs aimed at advancing these freedoms are effective and achieving results that are consistent with our values as a nation.”