U.S. senator wants Cuba talks canceled over prisoners’ fate
BY PATRICIA ZENGERLE
WASHINGTON Tue Jan 6, 2015 2:09pm EST
(Reuters) – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a leading opponent of President
Barack Obama’s restoration of ties to Cuba, called on the administration
on Tuesday to cancel upcoming talks with Havana at least until dozens of
detainees are released.
The promised release of 53 people Washington considers political
prisoners was part of Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement that he planned to
normalize relations with Cuba after decades of hostile relations with
The White House has steadfastly refused to release the names of the 53.
A State Department spokeswoman said on Tuesday some had been released, a
day after saying she could not publicly confirm that even one had been
let go. She did not provide a number.
The fate of the detainees has provided ammunition for congressional
critics of Obama’s policy shift. Rubio and others have said they will
seek to slow or block moves toward improved ties with Havana.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a daily news briefing that
releasing the prisoners is not a pre-condition for holding talks on
migration and the eventual normalization of relations.
Lawmakers are expected to hold hearings on Obama’s Cuba policy in the
first weeks of the new Congress, which was sworn in on Tuesday.
Rubio said Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for
Western Hemisphere Affairs, should cancel a trip to Havana later this
month to discuss normalizing relations at least until the 53 are released.
“Almost three weeks after your Cuba announcement, there is absolutely no
reason why any of these individuals should be in prison or the targets
of repression – or for their identities, conditions and whereabouts to
remain such closely held secrets,” Rubio said in a letter to Obama dated
Several mostly Republican members of Congress, led by Rubio and other
Cuban-American lawmakers, have expressed deep concerns about Obama’s
decision to ditch a half-century of U.S. isolation of Cuba.
They argue that Obama’s policy shift provides legitimacy – and money –
to the island nation’s Communist government even as it continues to
violate the human rights of its people.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Christian Plumb)
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