Republicans slammed President Barack Obama's decision Tuesday to remove Cuba from the State Department's list of terrorism sponsors, with Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen accusing the White House of acting "only for political reasons and not in accordance with the law."
"Since President Obama came into power, his administration’s policy toward the Castro regime has been: ask, and you shall receive," said Ros-Lehtinen, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "But this unwise decision to remove Cuba from the list illustrates that the Obama administration is willing to concede to the demands of the Castro brothers in order to set up an embassy in Cuba.
"Removing Cuba from the terrorist list does not help the Cuban people, as they are still left oppressed and without even basic human rights while emboldening its oppressors," she said.
House Speaker John Boehner said he was "disappointed" by the decision, adding that Obama's "cozying up to the oppressive regime in Cuba is a blow to all who long for liberty and dignity.
"It’s just one more example of this administration focusing more on befriending our enemies than helping our allies," he said. "The United States has a responsibility to stand strong for all those who struggle for freedom, and the House of Representatives is committed to doing its part."
Obama told Congress Tuesday that his decision came after a State Department review
of Cuba's presence on the list. The review showed that the Cuban government "has not provided any support for international terrorism" over the last six months.
He also said that Cuba "has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future."
The move came three days after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met informally during a regional summit in Panama. The talks marked the first official meeting between the leaders of their countries in more than a half-century.
Cuba was designated a state sponsor of terror in 1982 because of what the White House said was its efforts "to promote armed revolution by organizations that used terrorism."
The United States had long stopped actively accusing Cuba of supporting terrorism. When Obama and Castro announced new diplomatic efforts in December, the U.S. president said he was willing to remove Cuba from that list. Castro had demanded that Havana be removed.
The president held off on a final decision until several other issues — including restrictions on U.S. diplomats in Cuba — were resolved.
Removing Cuba from the terror list could pave the way for the opening of a U.S. Embassy in Havana and other steps. The countries still on the list are Iran, Sudan and Syria.
Republicans have long attacked Obama's forays toward Havana — with many citing the violent demonstrations with critics of the Cuban government in Panama City just days before last week's summit as continued evidence of the country's terrorist activities.
Injured in the clashes was Jorge Luis García Pérez, a human-rights activist who was Boehner's guest at Obama's State of the Union address in January. He was attacked by pro-Castro supporters, CNN reported.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also slammed Obama's decision.
"Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism," he said in a video message. "They harbor fugitives of American justice. It's also the country that's helping North Korea evade sanctions by the United Nations.
"They should have remained on the list — and it sends a chilling message abroad that this White House is not serious about calling terrorism by its proper name," Rubio said.
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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who also is considering a presidential run, said after a speech of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce that "we're not a step closer to freedom in Cuba because of the steps the president is taking," The Washington Post reports.
He later said on Twitter:
And another possible 2016 contender, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, cited the decision as "yet example of President Obama viewing the world through rose-colored glasses."
"President Obama is trying to find redeeming qualities in the Cuban regime regardless of the facts," he said. "But the facts are clear, there has been no change in the nature of the Castro brothers’ regime."
Ros-Lehtinen and Florida's two other Hispanic-American representatives in Congress, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, charged that Obama's decision smacked purely of politics.
Diaz-Balart detailed a litany of terrorism by the Castro regime, including its "extensive espionage activities, shoot-down of unarmed civilian aircraft in international waters, assistance to the Nicolás Maduro regime in oppressing the opposition and subverting Venezuela's democratic institutions, and weapons smuggling in violation of international sanctions."
He accused Cuba of harboring members of the Marxist FARC rebels in Colombia and the Basque separatist group ETA — as well as two U.S. fugitives: Joanne Chesimard, the convicted New Jersey cop killer, and William Guillermo Morales, a prime suspect in the bombings in New York City in the 1970s claimed by the Puerto Rican FALN terrorist group.
"The facts clearly show the Castro regime continues to be a state sponsor of terrorism," Diaz-Balart said. "This is just another shameful concession to the Castro regime."
Curbelo called President Obama's move "yet another reward to the Cuban dictatorship for taking an American hostage and consistently opposing U.S. interests all over the world."
The congressman was referring to Alan Gross, 65, who had been imprisoned in Cuba for five years. He was released
when Obama announced the diplomatic efforts in December.
"In pursuit of a legacy, the Obama administration is advancing a reckless foreign-policy agenda that weakens our country and its allies," Curbelo said.
Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon, who also serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also blasted Obama's political motivations.
"When politics drives policy, you get some really bad policy — and that’s what’s happening here," he said. "The president is singularly focused on undermining America’s standing in the world and turning his back on the democratic values we hold dear."
"The president is endangering our nation with feckless policy, while emboldening a brutal regime merely 90 miles south of our shore that despises the very principles on which our nation was founded."
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton called Obama's outreach the "most egregious in a long line of concessions he has made to the Castro brothers.
"Our enemies around the world are watching President Obama and wondering if they’ll be the next beneficiary of American appeasement," Cotton said. "And the American people today are asking: How long will Iran remain on the list of state sponsors of terrorism?"
But another Arizona legislator, Sen. Jeff Flake, welcomed Obama's decision, telling Wolf Blitzer on CNN that "it's a good move. That list should mean something."
Acknowledging that he was in the minority among his fellow Republicans, Flake said, "I know that they won't agree with me."
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that he had supported Obama lifting the travel ban to Havana in December, but questioned Tuesday's terrorism decision.
"Americans should have the right to travel anywhere in the world that they want, including Cuba," he later told Blitzer. "But the president does have a burden to come to Congress and articulate to the American people why a month ago they were on the state-sponsored terrorism list, now they're not.
"Some latte with Raul Castro there in Panama is not necessarily enough."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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