Obama has really come under fire. Republicans are not happy with the historic turning point of the White House regarding relations with Cuba and the start of a new era with the announcement that normal relations between the two countries would be re-established after the 50-year-long Cold War. Now, they are threatening to challenge the decision in Congress.
Marco Rubio on the Barricades
Shortly after his speech, during which Obama announced that the wall between Washington and Havana had fallen, Republican representatives issued the party’s first statements. The most notable statements were made by Marco Rubio, Florida senator, possible candidate for the 2016 elections, and son of anti-Castro dissidents who escaped from the island and settled in Miami.
No funding will be given to Obama for his new policy, no American embassies will be opened in Cuba, and most importantly, Congress will not lift the embargo, El Bloqueo, which was imposed by the American authorities half a century ago, when Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba. Rubio is completely against re-establishing ties with Cuba. This is the guarantee of a complete boycott of the new policy of the White House.
"This entire policy announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie," stated Rubio, “This president is the single worst negotiator we have had in the White House in my lifetime, who has basically given the Cuban government everything it asked for and received no assurances of any advances in democracy and freedom in return.” Rubio believes that too many concessions have been made to the Cuban regime, a dictatorship which still does not respect political and human rights. Republicans have always been relentless with regard to Cuba. For the GOP, normal relations with Cuba can only resume when Castro, the enemy who is still in power, has fallen.
Congress Will Not Lift the Embargo
The same warrior tone was also used by John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives when he stated, “Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom — and not one second sooner.” He called Obama’s policy change “another in a long line of mindless concessions.” Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the most widely recognized Republicans, piled on criticism of Obama even further when he said, “I will do all in my power to block the use of funds to open an embassy in Cuba.”
The GOP is therefore standing on the barricades. It is not clear, however, what exactly Congress could do to stop the policy shift concerning Cuba. According to sources at the White House, Capitol Hill cannot prevent an embassy from being opened on the island. The question of the embargo is a different story — it would be difficult to lift, as it was enacted by law in the 1990s.
In fact, the measures announced by Obama — such as allowing money to be transferred to the island or lifting travel restrictions — are a start in overturning the embargo. Some of the restrictions will probably remain in place thanks to the Republicans, as they have strength of numbers in Congress. However, even Republican opposition and their strength has little effect on the historic significance of Obama and Castro’s joint announcement.
The Reasons Behind Obama’s Decision
The first African-American president in U.S. history has thus enforced a historic turning point in U.S. policy with Cuba. This outcome was achieved thanks to Pope Francis, who acted as a mediator between the two governments, and who also has the aim, perhaps more importantly, of facilitating renewed dialogue with many other South and Central American governments. This is a move that is capable of promoting relations across Latin America, which is mostly governed by left-leaning governments at the moment.
Even Castro’s regime will benefit because Cuba will no longer be isolated and will be recognized by the enemy. In his speech, Obama stated that he does not intend to meddle in Cuban affairs, only that he hopes Cuba will be more open to respecting civil and political rights. It remains to be seen what will happen to Cuba over the months following the fall of the wall between Washington and Havana. The only thing that is certain is that a decades-long Cold War seems to be over for now.