Updated at 3:42 p.m.
The Obama administration announced today that it would begin the process of re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.
It’s a contentious issue, and reaction has been swift. Here’s a roundup:
— Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida with Cuban roots, issued a blistering statement. It read in part:
“Today’s announcement initiating a dramatic change in U.S. policy toward Cuba is just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost. …
“I intend to use my role as incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people’s expense. Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté during his final two years in office.”
— Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and the son of Cuban parents, also issued a statement criticizing the move. He said the U.S. had swapped spies for “an innocent American.” He went on to say:
“President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government. There is no equivalence between an international aid worker and convicted spies who were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage against our nation. One spy was also convicted of conspiracy to murder for his role in the 1996 tragedy in which the Cuban military shot down two U.S. civilian planes, killing several American citizens. My heart goes out to the American families that lost love ones on that fateful day.
“Trading Mr. Gross for three convicted criminals sets an extremely dangerous precedent. It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips. I fear that today’s actions will put at risk the thousands of Americans that work overseas to support civil society, advocate for access to information, provide humanitarian services, and promote democratic reforms.”
The Obama administration says Alan Gross was released by Cuba on humanitarian grounds. The U.S. then swapped three Cuban spies, part of the so-called Cuban Five spy ring, for an unnamed U.S. intelligence asset who had been jailed in Cuba for 20 years.
— U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, another high-profile Cuban-American lawmaker and Republican from Florida, issued a similar statement, saying the moves were a “coup for the Castro brothers.”
“The White House attempts to normalize relationships with Cuba without the approval of Congress may be in direct violation of Helms-Burton that specifically states that all political prisoners must be released and free and fair elections must be held before establishing a diplomatic relationship. This misguided action by President Obama will embolden the Castro regime to continue its illicit activities, trample on fundamental freedoms, and disregard democratic principles.”
— Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona who accompanied Gross back to the U.S. following his release from a Cuban prison, called the day “wonderful.” He added:
“It was an honor to be with Alan as he touched down on U.S. soil after more than five years in a Cuban prison. When I visited Alan last month, he expressed the hope that his ordeal might somehow lead to positive changes between the United States and Cuba. With today’s significant and far-reaching announcements, I think it already has.”
“For those who say this is a concession somehow to the Cuban regime … that is simply wrong,” Flake said at a news conference in Washington.
— Pope Francis, whom Cuban President Raul Castro credited with playing a big role in this deal, expressed his “warm congratulations” to the U.S. and Cuba.
“The Holy See received Delegations of the two countries in the Vatican last October and provided its good offices to facilitate a constructive dialogue on delicate matters, resulting in solutions acceptable to both Parties,” the Vatican’s Secretary of State said in a press release. “The Holy See will continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the wellbeing of their respective citizens.”
— Jeb Bush, who just yesterday said he was exploring a presidential run, said Alan Gross didn’t deserve to be in jail.
“The fact that he’s coming home is spectacular news for himself and for his family on the first day of Hanukkah,” Bush told reporters.
In a statement on Facebook, Bush blasted Obama’s shift in policy, calling it the president’s “latest foreign policy misstep.”
“Cuba is a dictatorship with a disastrous human rights record, and now President Obama has rewarded those dictators,” he said in the statement. “We should instead be fostering efforts that will truly lead to the fair, legitimate democracy that will ultimately prevail in Cuba.”