Florida Republicans take turns blasting John Kerry’s visit to Havana

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Although public opinion polls show that solid majorities of Americans support the United States’ renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba, that sentiment isn’t shared by most Florida Republicans, especially those aspiring for higher office.

According to a Pew poll released last month, more than seven in 10 Americans — 73 percent — said they favor reestablishing relations with Cuba, an increase of 10 percentage points from the last Pew poll in January. Additionally, 72 percent overall favored lifting the trade embargo that has existed between the two nations for more than a half-century. In January, 66 percent backed ending the embargo.

And it’s not just Democrats and independents who feel that way. The Pew poll showed a majority of Republicans – 56 percent – also favor reestablishing relations with the Communist island.

But upon the occasion of John Kerry becoming the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Cuba since 1945 to participate in the opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana, Florida Republicans — perhaps playing to the South Florida crowd — seemed to fall over each today in seeing who could go furthest in blasting the Obama administration for its diplomatic relations with the Castro government, which continue to repress dissidents who oppose the current regime.

Here’s a sampling of some GOP opinions today:

Jeb Bush:

“Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Havana is a birthday present for Fidel Castro – a symbol of the Obama Administration’s acquiescence to his ruthless legacy.  U.S. policy has changed, but Cuba has not.  It remains an unyielding dictatorship, a tragic example of the folly of communism, and an affront to the conscience of the free nations of the Western Hemisphere.

“The accommodation of the Castro regime comes at the expense of the freedom and democracy that all Cubans deserve, but Secretary Kerry’s visit is especially insulting for Cuba’s dissidents. That courageous Cubans whose only crime is to speak out for freedom and democracy will be kept away from the official ceremony opening the U.S. Embassy is yet another concession to the Castros.

“We need an American president who will work in solidarity with a free Cuban people, if I am elected president, I will reverse Obama’s strategy of accommodation and appeasement and commit to helping the Cuban people claim their freedom and determine their future, free from tyranny.  Standing up for fundamental human rights and democratic values should not be an afterthought to America’s Cuba policy; it should be its guiding principle.”

Marco Rubio:

“President Obama has rewarded the Castro regime for its repressive tactics and persistent, patient opposition to American interests. He has unilaterally given up on a half-century worth of policy toward the Castro regime that was agreed upon by presidents of both parties. He has ensured the regime will receive international legitimacy and a substantial economic boost to benefit its repression of the Cuban people, which has only increased since the new policy was announced.”

And as a symbol of just how backward this policy shift has turned out to be, no Cuban dissidents have been invited to today’s official flag-raising ceremony at the US Embassy in Havana. Cuba’s dissidents have fought for decades for the very Democratic principles President Obama claims to be advancing through these concessions. Their exclusion from this event has ensured it will be little more than a propaganda rally for the Castro regime.”

Ron DeSantis, Jacksonville congressman and 2016 U.S. Senate candidate:

“It’s a sad day when America celebrates the establishment of diplomatic ties with a tyrannical dictatorship that has connections to world-wide terrorism. Legitimizing the Castro dictatorship undermines our security and will, tragically, marginalize the pro-American freedom fighters and dissidents who are bravely standing up to the regime inside Cuba.”

Carlos Lopez-Cantera, lieutenant governor and 2016 U.S. Senate candidate: 

“The Obama Administration’s refusal to invite pro-democracy leaders to Friday’s U.S. Embassy ceremony in Havana is a shameful embarrassment that emboldens Castro’s repressive regime. Once again, it demonstrates that President Obama is committed to a policy that allows the Castros to dictate the terms and conditions of their relationship with the U.S., to the detriment of the Cuban people’s right to freedom and self-determination.”

During his visit to the enslaved island of Cuba, I call on Secretary Kerry to demand the dictatorship immediately release all political prisoners and end the repeated violence against peaceful pro-democracy leaders. Because the Obama Administration has decided to proceed with normalization while disregarding the clear evidence of increased brutality against peaceful dissidents, President Obama now bears the responsibility for the violence that will continue to be inflicted upon the Cuban people.”

Miami based U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: 

John Kerry’s presence in Havana on his global capitulation tour is yet another example of the Obama administration’s desire to pursue deals at any cost. While the Castro brothers will roll out the red carpet for Secretary Kerry, the people of Cuba will continue to be met with violence and detentions. While Secretary Kerry just changes the sign on the door at our post, he purposefully forgets that the Castro regime tries to prevent the people of Cuba from even reaching our building.  While political prisoners languish in Castro’s gulags, Secretary Kerry will be shaking hands with their oppressor. The arrest of more than 100 pro-democracy leaders just days before Kerry’s visit should provide proof enough that the Castro regime has no intention of changing, so why should our policies change?”

Miami area U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo

“From a dangerous Iran deal to being weak against North Korea to giving in to the demands of the Castro brothers, this administration has demonstrated it imposes no moral bar to negotiating with tyrannical regimes. It is a shame we continue to give away so much in exchange for nothing since the White House was unable to ensure democratic freedoms for the people of Cuba, the return of fugitives from American justice, or compensation for illegally confiscated properties. Our country stands for so much more than the pittance it has accepted from the Castro regime.”

“Secretary Kerry’s trip to Cuba only legitimizes the Castros’ illegitimate tyrannical rule,” Curbelo said on Friday. “Since President Obama’s December announcement, over 3,000 political arrests have been made, including over a hundred just this past weekend. The Obama administration has put blinders on to the increased repression against peaceful pro-democracy activists. This is the true nature of the dictatorship this administration has acquiesced to. I again call on Secretary Kerry to summon the moral courage and backbone to condemn these atrocious human rights violations against the Cuban people.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.