U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, gave an impassioned defense of his position on the White House’s new Cuba policy, saying he had strong support in Congress for his views – and that even of the views of fellow South Florida Cuban-American leaders didn’t persuade him otherwise.
His comments came in a Wednesday breakfast with reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. Touching on his presidential ambitions, the sagging American Dream and other national topics, he spent some time articulating his position on the White House’s plans to ease tensions with Cuba and open trade with the island national vital to the family histories of Rubio and much of South Florida.
It came a few days after several dozen national, Florida and Cuban-American leaders wrote the White House encouraging its efforts and saying they “will advance our national interests and our values by empowering the Cuban people’s capacity to work toward a more democratic and prosperous country.”
Among the letter signers: George P. Shultz, who was Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, and key South Florida leaders such as businessmen Mike Fernandez, Carlos Saladrigas, Alfonso and Andres Fanjul, Paul Cejas and Ricky Arriola.
“I certainly respect a lot of those folks, and they have a right to their opinion,” Rubio said when asked to contrast his views with those who signed the letter. “And I have no doubt that they sincerely desire freedom for Cuba. My problem is I can’t think of a single contemporary example where a reluctant tyranny has become a democracy as a result of an economic opening.”
Citing examples in China, Vietnam and Burma where economic openings did not lead to the desired results, Rubio continued that nations didn’t become democratic just “because they were flooded with tourists and interaction.”
The desires of business interests are partly propelling the Cuban thaw. But Rubio said that’s the wrong way to look at it. And, he said, it’s what he thinks will help win over his congressional colleagues.
“I understand that people are interested in Cuba as a market,” he said. “But my interest in Cuba – I’m interested in democracy. I think a free Cuban people can decide any economic model they want. There’s one I would recommend to them… My interest in Cuba is singular: I want them to have freedom and democracy.”
That, he said, was “more important than the desires of some business interests to go to Cuba and make some bucks.”
As far as votes in the Senate for any action to thwart the administration’s plans, Rubio said he doesn’t know if he can convince every member. But, he added, “I certainly think the majority of our conference supports my position on this issue.”