In a letter sent to the Biden Administration on Friday, Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL) and two of her Republican colleagues on the House Foreign Affairs Committee pleaded with the President to continue holding the Cuban regime accountable for its human rights abuses.
Salazar, along with Ranking Member Mark Green (R-TN) and Rep. August Pfluger (R-TX), remained adamant in emphasizing the inadequacies of former President Obama’s policy of “appeasement” towards the regime. The Obama Administration was characterized by its desire to normalize relations with the country after deciding that the United States’ “outdated approach [had] failed to advance our interests.”
His policy initiatives included an official state visit to the island (a sitting president had not traveled to Cuba since the Coolidge administration), removing Cuba from the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, and opening economic channels by permitting travel and the exchange of remittances across borders. He also infamously repealed the “wet foot, dry foot” policy days before leaving office. The policy previously allowed Cubans who immigrated illegally to pursue permanent residency more expeditiously than migrants of other nations.
Traditionally understood to be a Republican stronghold, the Cuban-American community sent mixed reactions towards the Obama administration’s policy change. Cuban Americans in Congress were more critical. Senator Bob Menéndez (D-NJ), for example, issued a strong rebuke of President Obama’s visit to the island and stated at the time that his decision to re-establish diplomatic relations “stinked.”
On the other hand, the Trump administration’s policies toward Cuba were a strong departure from those of his predecessor. President Trump promised the Cuban-American community he would reverse the normalization the Obama Administration began and reinstituted bans on commerce, travel, and later, on diplomatic relations. There was also strong condemnation from the State Department on its strengthening of relations with the Maduro regime in Venezuela.
In the final days of his presidency, the administration reclassified the island as a state sponsor of terrorism. Cuban-American support for Mr. Trump and the Republican Party rose in 2020 and was ultimately a major factor in establishing his victory over Biden in Florida. Cuban Republicans (including Rep. Salazar herself) also managed to win back two Miami congressional districts and maintain a hold on another.
Reps. Salazar, Green, and Pfluger are strong supporters of President Trump’s policy toward the island and warned the Biden Administration that the regime is well known for its “history of exporting its oppressive system and undermining the region’s democracies.” They later clarify, “… Cuba directly supports the Maduro regime’s human rights abuses and violent suppression of political dissent. Support for the Maduro regime in Venezuela contributes to instability in the region and facilitates the operations of transnational criminal and terrorist organizations that threaten U.S. national security interests.”
President Biden made clear on numerous occasions that he plans to reverse course on the Trump administration’s policies towards Cuba while ensuring he does not alienate the communities who came out against him in the 2020 presidential election. Among the proposed changes includes lifting restrictions on business and travel, as well as renewing diplomatic relations with the country.
On February 5TH, the State Department officially issued a statement promising Americans that policy towards Cuba will be guided by support for democracy and human rights, and that “Cuban Americans are the best ambassadors of freedom and prosperity in Cuba.”
As members of the House Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, Migration, and International Economic Security, Reps. Salazar and her colleagues are in a unique position to hold the Biden Administration accountable for its Latin American policies more broadly. The House Foreign Affairs Committee will be holding a hearing on the challenges coming from Venezuela facing the Biden Administration on March 3rd.