Cuban-American leaders and human rights activists within the island nation are hoping that the incoming Trump administration will scale back President Obama’s efforts to restore relations between the two countries, measures they say emboldened the communist regime and brought the U.S. little in return.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, said that a top priority for him next year will be to roll back sweeping changes President Obama implemented that significantly eased trade and travel restrictions. Rubio, like many Cuban-Americans who have opposed the normalization of relations, said Obama’s overtures to the Cuban government have not yielded the hoped-for reforms.
“By any objective measure, President Obama’s unilateral policy changes have failed, and they are not in the best interest of the American people or the people of Cuba,” Rubio said in a statement. “Rolling back President Obama’s one-sided concessions to the Castro regime, a key campaign promise shared with President-elect Trump, will be a top priority for me next year.”
Tuesday Rubio met with Guillermo Farinas, one of Cuba’s most prominent human rights activists, during the dissident’s visit to Washington D.C. Farinas, who has been jailed numerous times by Cuban authorities, has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s surprise decision two years ago to normalize relations with the Cuban government after more than a half-century of hostilities between the two nations.
Farinas and other dissidents, as well as some international human rights organizations, say the Cuban government continues to oppress its critics. Farinas went on a month-long hunger strike earlier this year after he was detained and beaten by Cuban authorities when he asked about a fellow dissident who had been arrested. Farinas, who was in New York Wednesday to meet with Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, told FoxNews.com Obama’s U.S.-Cuba policy betrayed the cause of human rights.
“I have faith that President Trump will be better for the people of Cuba and press the cause of freedom and democracy,” Farinas said. “Let’s just say no one can possibly be worse than Barack Obama has been for our cause.”
During the GOP primary, Trump signaled support for thawed relations, provided the Cuban government reformed its approach to human rights. After he won the nomination, Trump addressed the issue again in Miami, assailing Obama’s approach to Cuba.
“All of the concessions Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them,” he said, adding that he intended to “unless the Castro regime meets our demands.”
Top officials of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), one of the oldest and most influential anti-Castro organizations, say they are lobbying members of Trump’s transition team for a meeting with the president-elect.
“We want Donald Trump to understand the reality of the situation faced by Cubans in Cuba,” CANF co-founder Jose “Pepe” Hernandez, a Bay of Pigs veteran, told FoxNews.com. “We want a U.S.-Cuba policy that will bring democratic results.”
Other Cuban-American groups pressed Trump before he sealed the nomination. Brigade 2506, Miami-based veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion, endorsed Trump for president, the first endorsement in the organization’s 55-year history.
“For Donald Trump, it was a great honor to be recognized by the brigade,” said Helen Aguirre Ferré, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “He was deeply moved by it. This is an important issue to him, he has said you can’t negotiate with human rights.”
Rubio is not the only lawmaker waiting to see what Trump will do regarding Cuba. Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who supported Hillary Clinton and also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, told FoxNews.com that he does not know quite what to expect from a Trump administration.
“It depends on which Donald Trump shows up,” Menendez said. “The Donald Trump who said earlier in his campaign that he thinks it was good to engage Cuba, or the Donald Trump toward the end of the campaign who said he’d consider rolling back much of what Obama did unless there’s advantage for the Cuban people.”