Two top Florida members of the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday slammed plans by President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro to announce the re-opening of embassies in Washington and Havana for the first time in 54 years.
"The re-designation of our diplomatic facility in Havana as an embassy means President Obama can check off another item on his personal 'legacy-building' bucket list," charged Rep. Carlos Curbelo. "It will not further our national interests and recklessly confers legitimacy on an absolutely illegitimate military dictatorship.
"This deplorable move adds to the long list of unilateral concessions the Cuban government has received from the Obama administration as a reward for cruelly holding an American hostage for five years," Curbelo added, referring to U.S. contractor Alan Gross.
Gross, now 66, was released on the day of the December announcement. He was arrested in 2009 and charged with crimes against the Cuban government for bringing satellite telephones and computer equipment to members of the Jewish community in the country without a permit.
"Our country deserves a foreign policy that puts America first and that rewards our allies — not dictators responsible for the death of American citizens and for the theft of American property," Curbelo said.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs a House Foreign Affairs Committee panel, said that "there was little doubt that the Obama administration would pursue its goal of opening an embassy in Cuba no matter the sad reality on the ground.
Since Obama's announcement of normalizing relations with Havana, "the State Department has failed to forcibly condemn the increase of repression on the island now that the Castro regime feels emboldened to continue its attacks against the Cuban people," she said.
Ros-Lehtinen noted that many "pro-democracy leaders are routinely harassed, beaten, and imprisoned," while "the Obama administration has continued to turn its back on the Cuban people in order to pursue its goal of providing as many concessions as possible to the Castro regime."
The White House said that Obama and Castro will make the announcement
Wednesday. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in Vienna for the Iran nuclear talks, will also be included in the announcement.
Kerry is expected to fly to Havana early next month for a flag-raising ceremony to reopen the American embassy, administration officials said.
The move would fulfill a pledge Obama announced in December to re-establish relations, ending a stalemate between the countries that has existed since 1961.
Republicans have bitterly attacked Obama for the move, charging primarily that Havana's human rights record has worsened in recent years without any U.S. accountability.
"Not surprisingly, this administration has shown that politics trump policy in its decision-making process," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Opening the American Embassy in Cuba will do nothing to help the Cuban people and is just another trivial attempt for President Obama to go legacy-shopping."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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