From USA Today:
Senators question wisdom of Obama's Cuba policy
President Obama's top negotiator with Cuba was grilled during a tense Senate hearing Wednesday, as senators doubted whether the normalization of relations with the island would change its communist government.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson was repeatedly asked how the re-establishment of diplomatic relations would end Cuba's dismal human rights record, its lack of free elections and other injustices against the Cuban people.
Jacobson argued that having Americans operating more broadly in Cuba — diplomatically, economically and as regular visitors — would help the Cuban people reach a point where they could determine their own futures. She acknowledged that despite months of negotiations, the Cuban government has not promised any specific changes.
"We're not sure what the Cuban government will do in the face of these things," Jacobson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "I think they're still absorbing our changes and making their own policy decisions."
Wednesday's hearing came on the eve of the fourth round of diplomatic talks between Jacobson and her Cuban counterparts at the U.S. State Department. Jacobson said she was hopeful that could result in a final agreement to reopen embassies in Havana and Washington after 54 years of isolation.
She faced questions about exactly what the U.S., and the Cuban people, were getting from the deal.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban-American and 2016 presidential candidate, asked how the U.S. could prevent the Cuban government from profiting from the expected increase in travel by Americans, since it owns all major hotels on the island.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the committee chairman, asked how the ability of American telecommunications to build up Cuba's Internet infrastructure would help Cubans, when most of people there are denied access to the Internet. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., asked whether fugitives wanted in the U.S. would be returned to face justice.
And Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a Cuban-American, asked what the country got in return for removing Cuba from its State Sponsors of Terrorism List.
"President Obama may have outstretched his hand, but the Castros still have their firsts real tight," Menendez said. "I have deep concerns that the more these talks progress, the more the administration continues to entertain unilateral concessions without in return getting agreement on fundamental issues that are in our national interest and those of the Cuban people."
Rubio slams Obama plans to ease travel restrictions on Cuba
GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio took another shot Wednesday at the Obama administration’s effort to restore ties with Cuba, slamming the island’s communist leaders for human rights abuses and insisting that loosening travel restrictions will only boost the Cuban government’s coffers.
The Florida senator’s comments during a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing came a day before American and Cuban negotiators were to sit down to continue talks on reopening embassies in each other’s capitals, the next stage in a rapprochement after decades of estrangement.
“Their views on human rights are not legitimate, they’re immoral,” Rubio said of the Cuban government.
Rubio said Americans who travel to Cuba would benefit the Cuban state, and especially its military, because so many hotels and tourist establishments are owned by the government, much of it on property that was improperly confiscated.
Rubio also noted that other countries don’t have embargoes on Cuba, but that despite the availability of trade from nations such as Japan, the Cuban people were still largely blocked from full access to the Internet and other technologies. The reason, he pointed out, was the Cuban government’s policies.
“Why isn’t Cuba awash in Samsungs?” Rubio asked, adding later: “This is a government that won’t even allow you to bring in certain books to the island.”
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