Rubio: Obama Policy Will Allow Cuban Officials to 'Line Their Own Pockets'

By Susan Jones | December 22, 2014 | 4:53am EST

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the son of Cuban exiles, has expressed his disappointment in President Barack Obama's initiative to normalize relations between the US and Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

( - The Cuban government will take a lesson from China in dealing with the United States, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said on Sunday.

"They are going to use all the benefits of access to the U.S. markets to...line their own pockets, the government," Rubio told NBC's "Meet the Press." But while government officials get richer, the people of Cuba won't be any freer or better off.

"You talk about China as an example," Rubio told NBC's Chuck Todd. "We re-established both commercial and diplomatic relations with China in the 1970s. Certainly the Chinese economy has grown, but politically, there are more repressed than they were 20 or 30 years ago. There's no freedom of religion, no freedom of speech, no free access to the internet, no elections, no political parties.

"So, in essence, that is the model the Cubans will try to follow. They are -- they wholly control the economy. They are going to use all the benefits of access to the U.S. markets to grow their own -- line their own pockets, the government. But there isn't going to be any political opening. Raul Castro made it clear and Vietnam and China are the model for that."

Rubio says the goal of U.S. policy toward Cuba -- "a small impoverished island in our hemisphere" -- should be freedom and liberty for the people who live there.

"My opposition to what the president has done is it won't do anything to further that cause. On the contrary, just yesterday Raul Castro gave a speech where he made very clear that there will be no political changes on the island, nor did the president ask for any.

So, if you're going to make concessions to Cuba, if you're going to recognize them diplomatically, if you're going to have more commerce with them, there has to be some reciprocal opening on their part towards democracy. There was none in this engagement. So that's why this policy is misguided."

Rubio said if he were president, he would have "actively and vibrantly engaged with democracy activists" inside Cuba. Many of those activists "feel betrayed by this president," Rubio said. "He completely ignored them and threw them to the side in this whole process."

In an op-ed in The Miami Herald on Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew wrote that the U.S. effort to isolate Cuba "began to have the reverse effect of isolating the United States, especially in the Western Hemisphere."

They noted that Obama's new policy will expand travel, increase remittances (the money people in the U.S. send to family in Cuba), and grow trade. The U.S. also plans to allow the use of U.S. debit and credit cards in Cuba, among other "financial flows."

The Commerce Department plans to ease export restraints on products that will help grow Cuban businesses such as construction firms, agricultural companies, and auto repair shops.

The Obama administration also envisions expanded Internet access for Cubans.

"Next month, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will lead the U.S. delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration talks, and the Commerce Department will lead a business delegation to the country in the coming months," the administration officials wrote. "In the spring, President Obama will travel to Panama for the 2015 Summit of the Americas, where we are encouraging full participation by representatives of Cuban civil society."

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