Menendez Statement on President Obama’s Trip to Cuba

Thursday, February 18, 2016
U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) issued the following statement on President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Cuba:

“It is totally unacceptable for the President of the United States to reward a dictatorial regime with an historic visit when human rights abuses endure and democracy continues to be shunned.

This will mark the first time a U.S. President is visiting a dictatorship in Latin America since Lyndon Johnson's 1968 visit to Nicaragua and it’s the first presidential visit to Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. Since Castro seized power, nine American Presidents – Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush – did not rush to the island to shake hands with an oppressive dictator. They instead stood firmly against a regime that represses its people’s freedoms and blatantly violates human rights just 90 miles from our shore. The President is – again – prioritizing short-term economic interests over long-term and enduring American values. He will rue this decision, just as he will ultimately rue giving a lifeline to the Ayatollah.

As our President plans this trip with expectations that the world will watch and cheer, I remain of the belief that until the Cuban people are given the freedoms and liberties they deserve, eased relations should not be cheered.

Over a year ago when the Administration ushered in a one-sided deal with Cuba that was a win for the regime and a loss for the Cuban people, it started on an ill-fated trajectory. At every turn, I have urged President Obama to correct this course, but, unfortunately, the news of this trip is another step in the wrong direction.

This is reminiscent of the case of Burma, where amid great fanfare, we declared victory with a Presidential visit in 2012. At least in that case, we exacted 11 commitments from the government under the mantra of “action-for-action.”

We’ve seen multiple steps that have shifted leverage to the Castro regime: Travel, finance and commerce regulations have been eased, Cuba has been removed from the State-Sponsor of Terrorism List and an embassy has opened. However, since these sweeping changes started in December 2014, Cubans have been beaten, arrested, and repressed at higher rates than ever before. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights documented over 900 political arrests by the Castro regime in the month of December 2015 and 1,400 in January 2016 alone. U.S. fugitives, like Joanne Chesimard who remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorism List for the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster, are still enjoying safe harbor on the island and not a penny of the $6 billion in outstanding claims by American citizens and businesses for properties confiscated by the Castros has been repaid. To this day, we have not seen one substantial step toward transparent democratic elections, improved human rights, freedom of assembly, or the ability to form independent political parties and trade unions in Cuba.

And yet, despite the lack of reciprocity from a despotic and reinvigorated Castro regime, our President is rewarding this oppressive regime with a visit. In the case of Cuba, we should at the very least expect Joanne Chesimard to step off Air Force One with U.S. marshals.”