President Barack Obama’s deal with Cuba, which he will announce at noon, drew praise and sharp criticism on Capitol Hill as the details started to leak out.
Lawmakers cheered the news that Alan Gross had been released from Cuban custody, as the American aid worker headed home — but the deal also prompted sharp complaints.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the outgoing chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, torched the deal. “Let’s be clear, this was not a ‘humanitarian’ act by the Castro regime. It was a swap of convicted spies for an innocent American,” he said.
“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.”
Menendez said the trade sets a dangerous precedent and will put Americans at risk overseas.
Others were far more supportive.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., was traveling to meet with Gross upon his return, according to a statement issued from Joint Base Andrews.
“I’m overjoyed to welcome Alan Gross home after five long years in a Cuban prison. Alan’s supposed crime was that he provided Cuba’s small Jewish community with computer equipment to help them access the Internet. I have pressed the Cuban government for years to release him,” Durbin said. “I and my staff visited him in prison in 2012 and again earlier this year.”
Durbin also lauded an expected announcement about normalization of trade with Cuba, which is likely to be the more contentious news.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., expressed cautious optimism that the deal could thaw relations with Cuba in a statement.
“The success of this monumental development depends on Castro’s willingness to grant basic democratic freedoms for the Cuban people,” he said, referring to Cuban President Raul Castro.
Nelson isn’t sure yet if the embargo with Cuba should be lifted.
“Let’s see if Castro changes the behavior of a brutal police state and provides freedoms for the Cuban people,” he said.
The Associated Press quoted Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., saying the U.S. and Cuba were moving toward normalized banking and trade ties, including opening an embassy.
“This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba,” Rubio told the AP. “But it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come.”
But Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., applauded Obama for beginning discussions to establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba.
“This is a major step forward in ending the 55-year Cold War with Cuba,” he said. “Normal diplomatic relations would mean not only that Americans have the opportunity to visit Cuba, but businesses in Vermont and elsewhere can sell products there.”
Kansas GOP Sen. Jerry Moran was among the first out of the gate. He had led a 2012 resolution calling for the Castro regime to release Gross.
“For five years, Alan Gross and his family have endured pain and profound injustice amid his detainment in Cuba. Today, news of Alan’s release brings great relief to his loved ones and to every American who has called for his freedom,” Moran said. “I admire Alan’s strength and that of his wife Judy, who has worked tirelessly for years to free Alan and reunite her family.”
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