NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Florida senator and former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio says the United States needs to focus on tailoring its foreign policy to help gear Cuba toward a “more Democratic opening” in following the death of former Cuban president Fidel Castro.
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“I think what we need to do is understand our number one obligation is to act in the national interest of the United States of America,” Rubio said in an interview on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” on Sunday morning. “I believe it is in our national interest to see democracy take hold on the island of Cuba. And so we should examine our foreign policy, including all of the changes that President Obama made, through — in that lens and through that lens.”
Rubio said that Cuba is poised for a “generational leadership change” in Cuba over the next ten years, as Castro’s brother and successor, Raul, continues to age. Raul, who took over leadership from Castro in 2008, is currently 85 years old.
“We need to ensure that our foreign policy towards Cuba incentivizes and makes it easier for there to be a democratic transition. That’s how I would examine our foreign policy towards Cuba,” Rubio said.
In a statement released Saturday morning, President Obama pledged to extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people.
“We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation,” said Obama.
Rubio was critical of the president’s statement, saying that no mention was made of the thousands of people that died and were jailed at the hands of the Castro regime.
On Sunday, Rubio said foreign policy relations with Cuba and the United States needed to be “reciprocal,” as Cuba continues to stand as what he described as a “source of instability for the region.”
“For example, historic numbers of people are fleeing the island of Cuba, putting migratory pressure on the United States. Number two — this Cuban government is anti-American,” Rubio said. “They allow the Chinese and the Russians to conduct – conduct espionage, electronic espionage, and others from the island of Cuba. Number three — they harbor fugitives of American justice. There are people living on the island of Cuba — who have violated American law, including those who have stolen millions of dollars from Medicare fraud in south Florida and have fled to Cuba.”
President-elect Donald Trump also issued a statement following Castro’s death, saying that the incident marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”
Rubio said that he plans to give the president-elect a chance, and will work with him on policies he agrees with.
“If I do not agree with him on a foreign policy matter, be they a Republican or a Democrat, I’ll disagree, and try to offer an alternative, and hopefully do what we can from the Senate to change and influence our foreign policy,” Rubio said.
Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, died on Nov. 25 at age 90.