Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) lashed out at the Obama administration’s Cuba policy — which “has spared no generosity towards the dictatorship” — in a lengthy floor speech on Wednesday.
“Yet, Cuban dictator Raul Castro refuses to reciprocate any of these concessions” — from sanctions relief “in spite of the purpose and intent of U.S. law” to removing Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list and more. “To the contrary, Castro has emphasized that he ‘will not cede one millimeter’ — and in his speech at last month’s United Nations General Assembly gathering demanded even more, namely for President Obama to evade U.S. law as regards sanctions, to shutdown Radio and TV Marti, to end democracy programs, to return Guantanamo and to pay a trillion dollars in damages to his regime.”
Simply put, Menendez said, the evidence 10 months after Obama announced the new policy proves it’s disastrous.
“Political repression has exponentially increased. The number of Cubans desperately fleeing the island is rising,” he noted, contrary to the administration’s assertion that greater freedoms would arise from more openness with the Castro regime.
“While speaking recently to a business gathering in Washington, D.C., President Obama argued how he believes this new policy is ‘creating the environment in which a generational change and transition will take place in that country.’ But the key questions is – ‘a generational change and transition’ towards what and by whom? Cuban democracy leader, Antonio Rodiles, has concisely expressed this concern — ‘legitimizing the [Castro] regime is the path contrary to a transition,'” Menendez stressed.
The senator noted that Cuba’s dictatorship is not poised to die with Raul and Fidel, but Colonel Alejandro Castro Espin, the 49-year-old son of Raul, “was seated – with a wide grin — next to his father” in meetings with President Obama.
“Alejandro holds the rank of Colonel in Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior, with his hand on the pulse and trigger of the island’s intelligence services and repressive organs. It’s no secret that Raul Castro is grooming Alejandro for a position of power,” he said. “Sadly, his role as interlocutor with the Obama Administration seeks to further their goal of an intra-family generational transition within the Castro clan — similar to the Assad’s in Syria and the Kim’s in North Korea.”
“…But, of course, it also takes money to run a totalitarian dictatorship — which is why Raul Castro named his son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez Callejas, as head of GAESA, which stands for Grupo de Administracion Empresarial, S.A or translated Business Administrative Group.” Tourists who now flock to the island and stay with this regional hotel conglomerate’s facilities — which “controls more hotel rooms than The Walt Disney Company” — are adding to the Castros’ pockets.
“Yet, despite the clear evidence, some want American tourists to now double GAESA’s bonanza – and, through GAESA, strengthen the regime.”
Menendez also stressed that when the administration pressures Congress to lift the embargo, we must “stop talking about the embargo in vague terms.”
“The embargo, as codified by the U.S. Congress, simply requires the fulfillment of some very basic conditions, which are consistent with the democratic and human rights standards of 34 out of 35 nations in the Western Hemisphere. Cuba remains the exception. Though, ironically, Venezuela continues on a downwards spiral away from these standards — thanks in no small part to Cuba’s control over the Chavez/Maduro governments,” he said.
“When President Obama or some of my colleagues call for the lifting of the embargo, they are asking Congress to unilaterally discard these conditions. So, I ask them, which of these conditions — codified in U.S. law — do they disagree with or oppose that they are willing to unilaterally discard them? Is it, for example – the condition that Cuba ‘legalizes all political activity?’ The condition that Cuba ‘releases all political prisoners and allows for investigations of Cuban prisons by appropriate international human rights organizations?’ The condition that Cuba ‘dissolves the present Department of State Security in the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, including the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the Rapid Response Brigades?’
The condition that Cuba ‘makes a public commitment to organizing free and fair elections for a new government?’ The condition that Cuba ‘makes public commitments to and is making demonstrable progress in establishing an independent judiciary; respecting internationally recognized human rights and basic freedoms as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Cuba is a signatory nation; allows the establishment of independent trade unions as set forth in conventions 87 and 98 of the International Labor Organization, and allows the establishment of independent social, economic, and political associations?’
The condition that Cuba give ‘adequate assurances that it will allow the speedy and efficient distribution of assistance to the Cuban people?’ The condition that Cuba is ‘effectively guaranteeing the rights of free speech and freedom of the press, including granting permits to privately owned media and telecommunications companies to operate in Cuba?’ The condition that Cuba is ‘assuring the right to private property?’ The condition that Cuba is ‘taking appropriate steps to return to United States citizens — and entities which are 50 percent or more beneficially owned by United States citizens — property taken by the Cuban Government from such citizens and entities on or after January 1, 1959, or to provide equitable compensation to such citizens and entities for such property?’
The condition that Cuba has ‘extradited or otherwise rendered to the United States all persons sought by the United States Department of Justice for crimes committed in the United States?’ Which is it? Which conditions do they disagree with?”
Menendez noted that if Obama, “as media reports indicate, takes the unprecedented step of abstaining from voting against a Cuban resolution in the United Nations General Assembly criticizing his own nation’s law — which is what the Cuban embargo is — he would be disavowing these basic conditions.”
“Think of the horrible message that turning a blind eye to these basic conditions in U.S. law would send to the Cuban people about the United States’ priorities,” he said. “Think of the horrible message it would send to Cuba’s courageous democracy leaders.”
His criticism wasn’t just reserved for Obama, as the senator noted more than 20 lawmakers have visited Cuba without meeting with opposition groups.
“The reason U.S. lawmakers don’t meet with human rights activists and political dissidents is because – if they do so – they don’t get a meeting with Raul Castro. I guess to many of my colleagues a photo op is more important.”
On the State Department’s dis of human-rights activists at the U.S. Embassy flag-raising, Menendez said, “Can you imagine what the world would be like today if this had been the attitude of the United States towards Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn, Havel, Walesa and Mandela?”