Menendez Statement on Obama's Cuba Policy Announcement

Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Chairman Menendez’s Statement on U.S.–Cuba Relationship

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), issued this statement regarding the U.S.–Cuba relationship:

“Today’s policy announcement is misguided and fails to understand the nature of the regime in Cuba that has exerted its authoritarian control over the Cuban people for 55 years. No one wishes that the reality in Cuba was more different than the Cuban people and Cuban-Americans that have fled the island in search of freedom. In November, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights & National Reconciliation (CCHR) documented 398 political arrests by the Castro regime. This brings the total number of political arrests during the first eleven months of this year to 8,410. This is a regime that imprisoned an American citizen for five years for distributing communications equipment on the island.  Releasing political prisoners today in Cuba is meaningless if tomorrow these individuals can be arrested again and denied the right to peacefully pursue change in their own country.

It is a fallacy that Cuba will reform just because the American President believes that if he extends his hand in peace that the Castro brothers suddenly will unclench their fists. A majority of democratic activists on the island, including many that I have met with, have been explicit that they want the U.S. to become open to Cuba only when there is reciprocal movement by the Castro government.  They understand that the Castros will not accede to change in any other way.

The United States has just thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline.  With the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, Cuba is losing its main benefactor, but will now receive the support of the United States, the greatest democracy in the world. This is a reward that a totalitarian regime does not deserve and this announcement only perpetuates the Castro regime’s decades of repression.

Today’s regulatory changes, which are clearly intended to circumvent the intent and spirit of U.S. law and the U.S. Congress, present a false narrative about Cuba that suggests that the U.S., and not the regime, is responsible for their economic failure. Cuba’s economic struggles are 100 percent attributable to a half century of failed political and economic experiments that have suffocated Cuban entrepreneurs.  In Cuba, private business is controlled by the Cuban government, with the benefits flowing to the regime’s political and military leadership.  Cuba has had political and economic relations with most of the world, but companies choose not to engage because of political, economic and even criminal risks associated with investment on the island, as exhibited by the arbitrary arrests of foreign investors from Canada, England and Panama in recent years.

To suggest that Cuba should be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism is alarming while Cuba harbors American fugitives, such as Joanne Chesimard, who is on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists for murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and despite Cuba’s colluding with North Korea to smuggle jets, missile batteries, and arms through the Panama Canal.

With respect to the President’s decision to attend the Summit of the Americas, I’m extraordinarily disappointed that we intend to violate our own principles, laid down in the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001, on the Summit being a forum for the hemisphere’s democratically-elected leaders.  This action disavows the Charter and sends a global message about the low priority we place on democracy and respect for human and civil rights.

When the new Congress convenes in January, I urge incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker to hold hearings on this dramatic and mistaken change of policy."