Rubio Sounds Off On Cuba Policy, Migration Talks
Oddly enough, freshman GOP Senator (and Tea Party darling) Marco Rubio is counting on Democrat Bob Menendez to hold the line on Cuba policy reforms in the Senate this year. But, he told two hard-line Miami radio show hosts, he does plan to educate his fellow colleagues from agriculture states about political prisoners in Cuba (afterall, they’re “not communists” – they just don’t know any better).
Rubio disagreed with the Obama administration’s decision to ease restrictions on family travel in 2009 (see here for why), and tells the Miami-based Radio Mambi show that he thinks the administration may be looking to do more. (H/T to Politico's Ben Smith for posting the interview.) My informal translation follows:
“It’s important that this community and especially our elected officials, especially those holding federal office, express clearly that our position hasn’t changed and won’t change. If there’s something that has to change here, it’s in Cuba, there needs to be a change in government there. And if U.S. policy should change toward Cuba, then it should become even more tough.”
Does that refrain sound hopelessly familiar to anyone? I’m sure an hour on the internet could turn up numerous such statements from Florida politicians and Bush administration officials in the last decade alone.
Rubio, and anyone following Cuba news last year, knows well that the inter-agency approved new regulations for Cuba travel last summer. But perhaps he’s worried about any progress this week at the next round of twice-yearly bilateral talks on the 1994-95 migration accords. Rubio seems put out that Washington would sit down to discuss the accords, when, as he puts it, Havana continues to violate them day after day, though he doesn’t specify how. It’s certainly ironic since the United States hasn’t ever fully met its responsibilities under the accords.
The United States agreed not to accept Cubans who arrive to the United States by “irregular means” (like, without an approved visa). For more than 15 years, the U.S. Coast Guard has repatriated U.S.-bound Cubans found at sea, but any Cuban who makes it to dry land gets to stay. That “wet foot, dry foot” policy helped build up a robust speedboat smuggling (turned kidnapping) business in the Florida Straits and later via Mexico (which, in turn, fueled a racket in fake Cuban identity documents to get Mexicans and other illegal immigrants over the land border from Mexico). The smuggling problem got worse and worse, until the Bush administration initiated a family reunification program, through which Cubans already in the United States could bring their family members over from Cuba on an expedited basis.
With U.S.-Cuban relations improving at an incremental (some might say glacial) pace, no one seems to expect much from this latest round of talks. Both sides claim to have unanswered proposals on the table. For instance, Cuba has for years proposed formalizing the now case-by-case cooperation between the two countries’ coast guards, whereas U.S. officials continue to raise the continuing incarceration (without charges) of Alan Gross as an impediment to a real improvement in relations (though the rhetoric from Arturo Valenzuela and others has remained vague about where they draw that line).
The important thing is that the talks are moving ahead, no matter how warm or chilly the climate. But it sure would be refreshing for one or both sides to raise the bar, even a little.