“It is totally unacceptable for the president of the United States to reward a dictatorial regime,” Menendez, D-N.J., told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Kelly Waldron.
The senator said human rights abuses are ongoing and democracy is still being ignored in Cuba, a country that also is harbording fugitives. Among them is Joanne Chesimard, who escaped from prison after being convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973.
“We should, at very least, expect that Joanne Chesimard will step off Air Force One with U.S. marshals,” said Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants and member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
Since the U.S. and Cuba eased relations in December 2014, Cubans have been beaten, arrested and repressed at higher rates than ever before, Menendez said.
“The president is again prioritizing short-term economic interests over long-term American values,” the senator said.
Obama’s visit starting Sunday marks a crowning moment for his ambitious diplomatic experiment with Cuba. After a half-century of acrimony, the two former Cold War foes are now in regular contact.
Joined by his family, Obama will stroll the streets of Old Havana and meet with President Raul Castro. He’ll also attend a baseball game and meet with political dissidents.
White House officials say Obama won’t gloss over deep, persistent differences. Obama’s statements will be closely watched for signs of how aggressively he’s pushing on reform and human rights.
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