Two longtime critics of Cuba made blistering statements Wednesday morning following the Obama administration's announcement that the U.S. would normalize full diplomatic relations with the communist island, marking a significant policy shift not seen in decades.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, praised the release of former USAID worker and prisoner Alan Gross, but sharply criticized the administration for the price it paid.
"President Obama's actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government," he said in a statement. "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," he added. "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 U.S. is reportedly looking to normalize relations by opening an embassy in Havana, as well as loosening current travel restrictions on the country.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was equally blunt. Appearing on Fox News on Wednesday, the Cuban American slammed the administration for the expected announcement, which he called "absurd."
"It's absurd and it's part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants that this administration has established," Rubio said.
The administration, Rubio added, is "constantly giving unilateral concessions in exchange for nothing."
Addressing the matter again at a press conference on Capitol Hill, Rubio called Obama "the single worst negotiator we have had in the White House in my lifetime.”
UPDATE: In a statement released by his office on Wednesday, Rubio said he would "make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt" in his capacity as the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Western Hemisphere subcommittee, which he will assume once the new Congress convenes in January.
"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," Rubio said. "As a result, America will be less safe as a result of the President’s change in policy. When America is unwilling to advocate for individual liberty and freedom of political expression 90 miles from our shores, it represents a terrible setback for the hopes of all oppressed people around the globe.”