Obama’s looser policy towards Cuba gets mixed reviews on Capitol Hill

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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President Obama’s executive order loosening restrictions on travel and sending money to Cuba has unleashed a multitude of different responses on Capitol Hill – with politicians on both sides of the aisle both praising and condemning the move.

“It is unthinkable that the administration would enable the enrichment of a Cuban regime that routinely violates the basic human rights and dignity of its people,” Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, said in a statement.

In contrast, Republican Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake, said the move was “a long time coming.”

“I have always felt that the best way to promote democracy in Cuba is to allow American values to be displayed there, and more travel to the country by Americans will do just that,” he said in a statement.

On the other side of the aisle, John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, applauded the effort to expand “people-to-people relations between the United States and Cuba.”

“If governments cannot solve the problems between them,” he said in a statement, “at least they should get out of the way and let citizens work toward finding solutions.”

Kerry also suggested that the influx of money that will flow into Cuba as result of the executive order will aid private enterprise in the communist country.

But New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez said that it was the Communist regime, not private enterprise, that would be the ultimate beneficiary of this increased money flow.

In a statement, Menendez called the executive order “an economic life line to the Castro regime,” adding, “This gift to the Castro brothers will provide the regime with the additional resources it needs to sustain its failing economy, while ordinary Cubans continue to struggle under the weight of more than fifty years of economic and political oppression.”

Menendez also argued that the new policy will not provide the democratizing effect its supporters claim it will.

“This opening will do no more to advance political freedom in Cuba then our economic engagement with China has done for political dissidents in that nation,” he said. “You can’t buy political reform.”

The executive order essentially returns American policy toward Cuba back to Clinton-era standards. It allows for freer travel, “to enhance contact with the Cuban people and support civil society through purposeful travel, including religious, cultural, and educational travel.”

It also permits people in the U.S. to send remittances of up to $500 to non-family members and religious institutions, provided the recipients are not officials or “senior members” of the Communist Party.

Lastly, it eases the eligibility requirements for U.S. airports to provide flights to Cuba.

The Cuban government is only offering mild praise of the policy shift.

“Although the measures are positive… they have a very limited reach and do not change US policy against Cuba,” said a statement credited to a Cuba foreign ministry official, as the BBC reported.