Fast-tracking his effort to hold hands with Havana, President Obama today announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.
In the Rose Garden this morning, Obama called it “a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.”
Embassies will re-open for the first time since 1961.
“Our nations are separated by only 90 miles, and there are deep bonds of family and friendship between our people. But there have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things,” Obama said.
“For the United States, that meant clinging to a policy that was not working. Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba despite good intentions increasingly had the opposite effect -– cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere. The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t working, we can -– and will –- change.”
Secretary of State John Kerry will head to Havana later this summer, the president said, to “proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more.”
“I’ve been clear that we will also continue to have some very serious differences. That will include America’s enduring support for universal values, like freedom of speech and assembly, and the ability to access information. And we will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values,” Obama said.
He touted “enormous enthusiasm” for his approach among Latin American leaders.
“I’ve called on Congress to take steps to lift the embargo that prevents Americans from traveling or doing business in Cuba. We’ve already seen members from both parties begin that work. After all, why should Washington stand in the way of our own people?” he said, trying to guilt-trip lawmakers into lifting what he cannot. “…I’d ask Congress to listen to the Cuban people. Listen to the American people.”
“A year ago, it might have seemed impossible that the United States would once again be raising our flag, the stars and stripes, over an embassy in Havana. This is what change looks like.”
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), though, said this is what capitulation looks like.
Menendez noted that it’s erroneous to call the reopening of embassies a normalization of relations “if it fails to speak to key issues such as whether all U.S. diplomats will be restricted from moving freely throughout the island, if the U.S. government will be limited in the number of diplomats assigned to staff an embassy, or if diplomatic mail can be searched and potentially seized by Cuban authorities.”
“Once again the regime is being rewarded while they jail dissidents, silence political opponents, and harbor American fugitives and cop killers. Our demands for freedoms and liberty on the island will continue to be ignored and we are incentivizing a police state to uphold a policy of brutality,” said the senator.
“It is long past due for the United States to require concessions and changes from Cuba and thus far, we have seen neither. A policy of the United States giving and the Castro brothers freely taking is not in our national interest and not a responsible approach when dealing with repressive rulers that deny freedoms to its people. An already one-sided deal that benefits the Cuban regime is becoming all the more lopsided.”
Menendez added that “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.”
“The message is democracy and human rights take a back seat to a legacy initiative.”