Published On: Mon, Aug 17th, 2015

Presidential candidate slams opening of US embassy in Cuba; CARICOM gives move thumbs up

SG-and-Raul-CastroNEW YORK, USA – The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has congratulated Cuba and the United States on further normalizing of relations, following the opening of the US embassy in Havana.

But Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio has slammed the Barack Obama administration for bringing “legitimacy to a state sponsor of terror”.

As the US raised its flag over an embassy Cuba for the first time in 54 years, CARICOM said it would continue to encourage both sides, with which it has close relations, to complete the normalisation process in the interest of regional and hemispheric harmony.

The regional grouping said it particularly looked forward to the removal of “the outdated and unjust trade and economic embargo against Cuba”.

But Rubio, who was born to Cuban immigrants, accused President Obama of rewarding the Castro regime “for its repressive tactics and persistent, patient opposition to American interests.”

Speaking on Friday at the Foreign Policy Initiative in New York City, the Florida senator added: “He has unilaterally given up on a half-century worth of policy toward the Castro regime that was agreed upon by presidents of both parties.”

“The deal with Cuba threatens America’s moral standing in our hemisphere and around the world, brings legitimacy to a state sponsor of terror, and further empowers an ally of China and Russia that sits just 90 miles from our shore,” Rubio declared.

Secretary of State John Kerry headed the US officials in Havana for Friday’s flag-raising ceremony at the embassy.

Prominent Cuban government officials were in attendance at the formal event, but no Cuban dissidents were present to mark the landmark occasion.

Rubio, an adjunct professor of political science at Florida International University, knocked their exclusion from the embassy opening and described the event as “little more than a propaganda rally for the Castro regime.”

Cuba restored full diplomatic relations with the United States last month, making the embassy opening largely symbolic, according to CBS News. It has nevertheless presented anti-Castro critics with another opportunity to condemn President Obama’s thawing of relations between the two countries.

Rubio, a staunch opponent of the resumption of US-Cuba ties, promised that if he were elected president, he would roll back nearly all of President Obama’s policies on the island nation.

He committed to restoring Cuba to the state sponsors of terrorism list and pledged support for Cuba’s pro-democracy movement.

“We must guarantee that the United States stands on the side of the Cuban people, not their oppressors,” Rubio said.

In the question-and-answer session that followed his address, Rubio added that he would attempt to allow Cubans unfettered access to the internet, in order to reverse a news “blackout” in the country.

Last month, in response to Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton’s embrace of Obama’s Cuba policy, the Republican White House hopeful said it was a “grave mistake” to engage with the Castro regime.

“Unilateral concessions to the Castros will only strengthen a brutal, anti-American regime 90 miles from our shore,” Rubio said.

“President Obama and Secretary Clinton must learn that appeasement only emboldens dictators and repressive governments, and weakens America’s global standing in the 21st century,” he added.

Rubio also blasted the Iran nuclear deal, calling it a “string of concessions to a sworn adversary of the United States.” He also dubbed it the “most significant erosion” of US-Israeli relations since the founding of the Jewish state.

Photo: CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque meets Cuba’s President Raul Castro at a recent CARICOM-Cuba Summit in Havana. (Credit: Ismael Francisco)

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