WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s plans for a trip to Cuba drew hopeful cheers Thursday in Havana but equally emphatic condemnation from many U.S. lawmakers and Republican presidential candidates, who accused the president of rewarding a “dictatorial regime.”
Jeb Bush called the plans “appalling.” Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, born in Havana, deemed Obama’s March 21-22 visit “absolutely shameful.” New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez – a member of Obama’s party – accused him of ceding U.S. leverage to the communist nation 90 miles south of Florida.
“The president is again prioritizing short-term economic interests over long-term and enduring American values,” said Menendez, another Cuban-American. He likened Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba to his nuclear deal with Iran.
Not so, said Obama, who pledged to press President Raul Castro on human rights and other thorny issues during their sit-down in the Cuban capital. The White House said pointedly it had put Castro’s government on notice that Obama would also meet with dissidents and activists – a precondition the president had laid out for a visit.
“We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly,” Obama said on Twitter.
The trip will mark a watershed moment in U.S.-Cuba relations, making Obama the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on the island in nearly seven decades.
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