Marco Rubio: Cuba tourism like "indoctrination of Americans by Castro"
From a press release:
Washington, D.C. – During a Senate floor speech this evening, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio highlighted the rampant abuses that occur under the Obama Administration’s “people-to-people” program. As part of his remarks, Rubio read from several days’ worth of dancing and music appreciation-heavy travel itineraries that are currently licensed under this program. Below is an excerpt of the speech:
“There’s this sports show. I think it’s on ESPN on Sunday nights, where they review NFL highlights. And Michael Irvin, who was a great player, he has this segment called ‘Come on, man!’, where they put some ridiculous thing that happened during the day and he’ll say, ‘Come on, man!’
“When I look at this stuff, you know what I want to say? Come on, man. This is about promoting democracy and freedom in Cuba? This is not about promoting democracy and freedom in Cuba. This is nothing more than tourism. This is tourism for Americans that, at best, are curious about Cuba and, at worst, sympathize with the Cuban regime.
“Now, you may ask, ‘We’re a free society, why would we restrict that?’ Well, here’s why: because this is not just a source of irritation. This is a source of hard currency, of millions of dollars in the hands of the Castro government that they use to oppress the Cuban people and to jail and hold hostage an American citizen who today is being held hostage in Cuba, Alan Gross. And, by the way, after they took him hostage, we implemented this policy. So this policy is a reward for what?
“So here’s my challenge to the Administration and the State Department: I know you’re not going to change your mind. I know you believe in this people-to-people stuff. I know someone has sold you a bill of goods that this people-to-people travel is a good idea and will further democracy and freedom in Cuba. I get that. You’re not going to change your mind, but at least examine how this is being implemented because this is a charade. This is an embarrassment. These people are getting licenses to conduct this outrageous tourism which, quite frankly, borders on indoctrination of Americans by Castro government officials.
“So I hope we’ll continue to look at this and that this Administration, as part of its western hemispheric approach, will look at these trips for what they are. They’re an outrage. They’re grotesque. And they’re providing hard currency to a regime that oppresses its people, who jails people because they disagree with the government. It’s wrong. This is not what we’re about as a country. This cannot be what we defend. Even if you agree with this people-to-people theory and concept, you cannot justify how this program is being implemented, or these people that are getting licenses to conduct these kinds of trips.
“So I hope that in our conversations with the State Department about their appointments in the Western Hemisphere and, in specific, the nomination of Roberta Jacobson, I hope we’ll use that as an opportunity to examine how these programs are being implemented because, quite frankly, they’re outrageous.
Marco Rubio lifts hold on State Department nominee
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he'll lift his hold on the nomination ofRoberta Jacobson as assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, a job that includes overseeing U.S. relations with Cuba. His change of heart comes "following months of negotiations with the administration in the hopes of cracking down on abuses of the people-to-people Cuba travel policy," his office said.
"This policy has been abused by some people who are more interested in profiting from tourism than in a meaningful effort to bring about democratic change in Cuba," Rubio said in a statement. "In doing so, they have also undermined our entire Cuba policy by providing hard currency to a cruel regime that oppresses its people."
Under the rules of the Senate, a single senator has the ability to block votes on nominees or legislation by placing a so-called "hold" on it.
Rubio said he still has concerns about the entire program, but that as a condition for lifting his nomination hold, he asked the administration to enforce its own regulations and stop what he called "the more egregious abuses."
The State Department agreed to make changes that will require applicants to demonstrate how their itineraries constitute purposeful travel that would support civil society in Cuba and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities, Rubio said.
Rubio previously described the Obama administration's policy towards Latin America as one that's been "defined by appeasement, weakness and the alienation of our allies."
Jacobson during her confirmation hearing defended the Obama administration’s policies toward the communist island nation, including policies that allow Cuban-Americans to send more money there.
Jacobson, who appeared in November before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for her confirmation hearing, also told senators that the administration would do whatever it could through diplomatic channels to secure the unconditional release of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in Cuba for more than two years.
Posted by Erika Bolstad at 12:00 PM on Friday, Mar. 23
U.S. changes requirements for some Cuba trips
The U.S. changes on some ‘people to people’ visits come after pressure from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
The U.S. Treasury Department has tightened a few of its restrictions on trips to Cuba by non-Cuban Americans on so-called “people to people” visits, saying that the revisions will “help to deter abuses.”
Complaints of abuses of such trips — they must be for “educational” purposes, never for tourism — have dogged the program since President Barack Obama approved it last year in a bid to increase Americans’ engagement with regular Cubans.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., drew laughter during a speech in Washington last year when he read the schedule for one such trip, showing salsa dancing sessions every night. Other tours have met with Cuban government ministers and even a daughter of ruler Raúl Castro.
Rubio put a block on Roberta Jacobson’s nomination as the top U.S. diplomat for Latin American until the Obama administration addressed some of the myriad complaints. Jacobson was sworn in earlier this month.
“I think it’s progress … because the changes require closer reviews of the itineraries,” Rubio said. “But I still have concerns about the program in general, because it is difficult to manage and avoid abuses.”
Treasury spokesman John Sullivan said the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Controls, which enforces sanctions on Cuba, revised the regulations for those seeking OFAC licenses to organize trips “in part because of reports we received.”
He did not detail the “reports” but added that the changes “will provide clarity to applicants and licensees seeking renewals, facilitate OFAC’s review of license applications and help to deter abuses by licensees.”