MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The release of American contractor Alan Gross from a Cuban prison is representative of a marked change in U.S./Cuba relations.READ MORE: Trump Plans 2,300 New Homes At Struggling Doral Resort
“I think it is great that he is released, it’s a tragedy that he was put in prison, he didn’t do anything to justify that. The fact that he was ill and is coming home for the holiday season on the first day of Hanukkah is spectacular. I am very pleased for him and his family,” said former Governor Jeb Bush.
Governor Rick Scott, following President Obama’s speech on the major policy change, criticized the President.
Scott put out a statement Wednesday that says he continues to support sanctions and the existing embargo against the island nation “as long as Cuba chooses dictatorship over democracy.”
“President Obama is giving into a tyrannical government that does not value human rights and completely disregards the people of Cuba who are fighting for democracy,” Scott said.
Scott also called it “unconscionable” for the president to agree to release three Cubans jailed in the United States as part of an agreement to release American Alan Gross. Gross was arrested in 2009 while working in the Communist-run country to set up Internet access for the island’s small Jewish community.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, whose parents immigrated from Cuba to escape the oppressive regime, wasn’t keen on the swift policy change.
“This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, based on a lie,” Rubio told reporters on Capitol Hill. “The White House has conceded everything and gained little.”
And though Rubio said he was glad to see Gross released, he was infuriated how President Obama handled the negotiations.
“This president has to be the worst negotiator we’ve ever had in the White House,” Rubio said. “In exchange for all that, Cubans are going to agree to release 53 political prisoners who would be right back in jail if they take up the cause of freedom again…This is absurd.”
“The Castro regime’s detention of Alan put his health and life at unnecessary risk for shameful political purposes,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a statement. “I thank everyone who has worked tirelessly on his release, and I am particularly moved by the fact that Alan will be home to celebrate Hanukkah and the New Year with his family.”
Wasserman Shultz also released a statement Wednesday evening saying, “Like the President, I too envision a bright future for the Cuban people where their basic human rights are respected and they can access information freely. While I have always been opposed to unearned changes in the status of our relationship with Cuba, I will continue to work with the Administration, my colleagues, and community activists to support policies that benefit the Cuban people and do not further entrench the Castro regime.”
“Both he and his family have paid an enormous personal price, and I am pleased that his unjust detainment has finally come to an end. I would like to commend my colleagues in Congress and all those who have fought tirelessly for Mr. Gross’ release in making today possible,” said U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings in a statement.
Gross was arrested in Cuba in 2009 while working in the Communist-run country to set up Internet access, which bypassed local restrictions and monitoring.
At the time, Gross was working as a subcontractor for the U.S. government’s U.S. Agency for International Development, which promotes democracy on the island. Cuba considers USAID’s programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government, and Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison.READ MORE: Lufthansa Group Cancels Frankfurt-To-Miami Flights Due To 5G Rollout
Gross’ release by Cuba comes in exchange for the release of three Cubans jailed in Florida for spying. This was not prisoner swap from the administration’s point of view. Officials argue Gross was not a spy and therefore would not be traded for Cubans who were.
“They assert Gross was released on humanitarian grounds and once he was freed that allowed the administration to make other moves of a conciliatory nature – including but not limited to the release of three Cuban intelligence officers,” according to CBS News correspondent Major Garrett.
“Although the freedom of Alan Gross is welcome news, it’s important to remember that Mr. Gross should have never been imprisoned in Cuba by the Castro regime in the first place. The manner in which the White House has negotiated this prisoner swap is a slap in the face to the families of the Brothers to the Rescue and poses a threat to our national security. President Obama has unilaterally released three convicted Cuban spies who were responsible for the deaths of three American citizens and one U.S. resident: Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales, whose planes were unjustly shot down over international waters on direct orders of the Castro brothers,” according to a statement from U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
The congresswoman went on to criticize the policy changes made by the president which she said may be illegal.
“The liberalization policies aimed at easing trade and remittances to Cuba is another propaganda coup for the Castro brothers, who will now fill their coffers with more money at the expense of the Cuban people. It is quite possible that this unilateral action by the President without Congressional consultation is in violation of the following U.S. laws: Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996, Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, and the Trading with the Enemy Act. The White House attempts to normalize relationships with Cuba without the approval of Congress may be in direct violation of Helms-Burton that specifically states that all political prisoners must be released and free and fair elections must be held before establishing a diplomatic relationship. This misguided action by President Obama will embolden the Castro regime to continue its illicit activities, trample on fundamental freedoms, and disregard democratic principles.”
American officials say the U.S. and Cuba will start talks to normalize full diplomatic relations as part of the most significant shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island in decades.
Officials say the U.S. is also looking to open an embassy in Havana in the coming months. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said the agreement includes normalizing banking and trade ties with Cuba.
Governor Rick Scott said the U.S. should proceed cautiously
“It’s a wonderful day that Alan Gross has been released. Unfortunately Cuba is still a totalitarian state and they are still causing civil unrest in Venezuela, but this is a wonderful day,” said Governor Rick Scott.
Among those expressing cautious optimism about the prospects of a broader thaw in relations between the U.S. and Cuba was U.S. Senator Nelson, a long-time Castro regime critic, economic embargo supporter and vocal advocate for Gross’s freedom.
“The success of this monumental development depends on Castro’s willingness to grant basic democratic freedoms for the Cuban people,” Nelson said.
Two years ago, Nelson met with Haitian President Michel Martelly just prior to Martelly visiting with Cuban President Raul Castro. Nelson asked Martelly to urge Castro to release Gross.
Afterward, Martelly called Nelson to say he spoke with Castro and that Castro indicated a willingness to talk with U.S. officials, which Nelson reported to the White House.
Asked today whether he would now favor the U.S. easing its five-decades-old economic embargo against the Communist island, Nelson said, “Let’s see if Castro changes the behavior of a brutal police state and provides freedoms for the Cuban people.”
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)MORE NEWS: Fired Former Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo Files Lawsuit Against City, Commissioners, City Manager
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