Republican Senator Marco Rubio has mostly kept quiet about what he has discussed with President Donald Trump on the three occasions they have met, including once over dinner with their wives at the White House. But Rubio told the host of a Spanish-language TV show last week that he used the conversations with the president to bring up Cuba and the future of U.S.-Cuba relations.
“I’ve spoken to the president of the United States personally on three occasions . . . I think without a doubt there will be changes in U.S.-Cuba policy,” the senator told Mega TV host Oscar Haza. “If the Cuban government is going to behave like a dictatorship, well, then we’re going to deal with them like a dictatorship . . . there haven’t been any changes, on the contrary, we’ve seen more repression.”
While he didn’t go into specifics, Rubio appears to favor a more restrictive approach with Cuba. He said he and his staff are working “very closely” with the Trump administration on the issue and he expects the White House will address the issue “strategically.”
Cuba has been a hot topic with Florida lawmakers since Trump’s inauguration. Miami Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart reportedly tried to use the Trumpcare vote last month as an opportunity to get assurances from White House officials that Trump will keep his pledge to undo former Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba.
The implication that Diaz-Balart would use his Trumpcare vote to leverage U.S.-Cuba relations drew sharp criticism from House democrats and Cuban advocates of the renewed relations. But according to The New York Times, Diaz-Balart had not yet engaged in any serious discussion with the White House on voting “Yes” on the American Health Care Act in exchange for a new Cuba policy.
Florida governor Rick Scott has also been vocal about “coddling a dictator” like Raúl Castro who “does not believe in democracy and freedom and things like that.” The governor told Politico that he wants to work with the Trump administration to renegotiate the U.S.’s agreements with Cuba. He didn’t say how he would advise the White House to approach the issue, but his stance on trade with the island has been aggressive.
In January, Scott tweeted that he would cut off state funding from Florida ports that signed memorandums of understanding with the “Cuban dictatorship.” He published the tweets just as Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach were making plans to sign agreements with Cuban trade officials. Both ports canceled those plans.
Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has also been critical of the renewed relations between the U.S. and Cuba. She recently slammed the congressional delegations that have been traveling to Cuba for not meeting with members of the opposition or talking about the Castro regime’s human rights violation.
Last week, Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz co-wrote a letter signed by more than 20 House representatives that questioned the State Department’s decision last year to grant Cubaexport, which is owned by the Cuban government, a license for the Havana Club rum trademark.
You can watch Rubio’s (Spanish) interview with Mega TV host Oscar Haza here.