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    Cuba hearings begin on Capitol Hill

    Cuba hearings begin on Capitol Hill
    BY MIMI WHITEFIELD MWHITEFIELD@MIAMIHERALD.COM
    02/02/2015 7:00 AM 02/03/2015 1:47 PM

    Update from Chris Adams of the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

    U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio began Congress’ assault on the White House plan to
    relax trade, travel and diplomatic restrictions with Cuba, telling top
    administration officials that he didn’t think they would be effective
    and that human rights were being overlooked.

    In the first of three congressional hearings on President Barack Obama’s
    policy that are scheduled in various committees this week, Rubio laid
    into the administration. Rubio reiterated his strong objections to the
    policy, saying he had “deep reservations” about them.

    He did, he said, “for the simple reason that I don’t think they will be
    effective.”

    The West Miami Republican and potential presidential candidate has
    emerged as Congress’ chief critic for the new Cuba policy. In a Senate
    Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing Tuesday, Rubio said the opening
    to Cuba neglected the reality of human rights abuses on the island nation.

    Rubio took the reins of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee as
    Republicans took control of the Senate last month.

    The administration, represented by Roberta S. Jacobson, the assistant
    secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, contended the U.S.
    was pursuing the opening with its eyes wide open, and that it was time
    to pursue a different strategy from the one that has failed for half a
    century.

    Both Rubio and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, are key
    Senate opponents to the policy, and both were involved in the
    subcommittee hearing.

    Menendez, in his opening statement, said that despite the length of the
    negotiations between U.S. and Cuban officials, they didn’t yield
    anything worthwhile.

    “Let me be as clear on this issue as I have been since December,” he
    said. “Eighteen months of secret negotiations produced a bad deal – bad
    for the Cuban people. While it may have been done with the best of
    intentions, in my view, we’ve compromised bedrock principles for minimal
    concessions.”

    He continued: “At the end of the day, 53 political prisoners were
    released while so many more remain in jail – and the Cuban people –
    those who suffered most under the regime – still have zero guarantees
    for any basic freedoms.”

    Other senators involved were supportive of this policy, including Sen.
    Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, and Republican Jeff Flake of
    Arizona. Flake said it was time to relax travel restrictions between the
    U.S. and Cuba, something he has pushed for years.

    The Obama administration plans to open the door to Cuba become public
    with a dramatic unveiling in December, with the release of U.S. aid
    worker Alan Gross and the announcement that trade and travel
    restrictions will be eased and that the U.S. would work to established a
    diplomatic presence in Cuba.

    In his questioning, Rubio pushed the administration for information on
    who on the U.S. side negotiated for the changes, and drilled into the
    fact that Jacobson’s office was not the prime mover of the changes. And
    he wanted to know which pro-democracy groups in Cuba were consulted.

    He also pushed for a declaration from the administration that the
    opening of any diplomatic presence, such as a U.S. embassy, wouldn’t
    come with restrictions on who in the country embassy personnel could visit.

    Citing recent public comments from a top Cuban official, Rubio asked
    Jacobson whether the U.S. would ever go forward with an agreement that –
    as the Cuban official indicated – made certain pro-democracy activists
    in the country off-limits.

    In a back-and-forth with Jacobson, Rubio pressed her to answer what he
    said was “a pretty straight-forward question.”

    After first saying they were seeking to maintain the greatest ability to
    speak with whomever they want, and that they were going to push to get
    restrictions lifted, Rubio pushed for clarity on what the U.S. would or
    wouldn’t allow.

    She eventually said she couldn’t imagine going to the next stage with
    such restrictions in place.

    The first panel in the hearing has included Jacobson and another State
    Department official. The second panel will include four Cuban human
    rights activists.The first in a series of congressional hearings
    examining the potential impact of President Barack Obama’s new Cuba
    policy gets underway Tuesday in the Senate.

    Later in the week, the action switches to the House with two hearings:
    the main show — “Assessing the Administration’s Sudden Shift’’ — before
    the Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday and a subcommittee hearing
    on human rights in Cuba on Thursday.

    The common theme for this week’s hearings seems to be whether Obama gave
    away too much without getting enough from Cuba as the two countries work
    toward restoring diplomatic relations.

    That’s the position of Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who as
    chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere subcommittee
    called the first Cuba hearing at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

    In an opinion piece he wrote Monday for CNN, Rubio recalled a line from
    The Godfather Part II in which mob character Michael Corleone responds
    to the demands of a U.S. senator by saying, “My offer is this: nothing.”

    “In recent months, I’ve made clear that I believe the president and his
    allies in Congress are misguided for supporting a policy that gives away
    practically all the leverage the United States has to bring about
    democratic change in Cuba in exchange for virtually nothing,” wrote Rubio.

    The senator said he wants answers on what the administration has done to
    secure the repatriation of an estimated 70 fugitives from U.S. justice
    who now live in Cuba as well as “what exactly the Castro regime has done
    in exchange for Obama’s softening of travel and banking regulations that
    will now allow more U.S. dollars to fill the Castro regime’s coffers.”

    Rubio, who is testing the waters for a possible presidential run, called
    the hearing the same day he assumed the subcommittee chairmanship last week.

    Among those scheduled to testify at the Senate hearing are Assistant
    Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, who
    recently headed the U.S. delegation during normalization talks in
    Havana, and Tomasz Malinowski, assistant secretary for democracy, human
    rights, and labor.

    Rosa María Payá, of the Cuban Christian Liberation Movement, also is
    scheduled to testify. She is the daughter of Oswaldo Payá, one of Cuba’s
    most respected dissidents when he died in a mysterious 2012 car crash.

    She’ll be joined by activists Berta Soler, Miriam Leiva, and Manuel
    Cuesta Morúa.

    There’s expected to be an overflow crowd when the House Foreign Affairs
    Committee convenes at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The hearing will be webcast at
    www.foreignaffairs.house.gov/live-video-feed.

    “The Obama administration’s sudden shift on Cuba policy raises many
    concerns, including how hard the United States pressed the Castro regime
    on its abysmal human-rights record during the secret White House
    negotiations that cut out the State Department,” said Republican Rep. Ed
    Royce, a Californian who chairs the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

    “When it comes to the unilateral concessions provided to the Castro
    regime, the Obama administration has much to answer for. From the
    commercial goodie bag provided to the Castro regime to the pardons
    bestowed upon three convicted spies, one of whom was responsible for the
    murder of American citizens, the concessions provided to these Caribbean
    despots is pathetic,” said South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana
    Ros-Lehtinen.

    “I look forward to hearing from State, Treasury, and Commerce and
    questioning the basis for normalizing relations with an unworthy regime
    that continues to detain dissidents,” she said.

    In addition to Jacobson, John E. Smith, deputy director of Treasury’s
    Office of Foreign Assets Control, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of
    Commerce for Export Administration Matthew S. Borman are slated to testify.

    During a Thursday morning hearing on human rights before the House
    Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and
    International Organizations, Jorge Luis García Pérez, an anti-Castro
    activist known as Antúnez, will testify.

    Source: Cuba hearings begin on Capitol Hill | The Miami Herald The Miami
    Herald –
    http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article8964596.html