Today, President Barack Obama made a historic announcement to begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years.
Initially, both countries will reopen their embassies, travel restrictions will be loosened and the economic embargo eased. Cuba released American Alan Gross, a USAid worker, and other political prisoners. The United States will release several Cubans convicted of espionage. Other steps, like fully lifting the embargo, would require the cooperation of Congress.
According to reports the landmark deal was facilitated by Pope Francis and a “key meeting” took place this fall at the Vatican. The Pope was “directly involved in the talks” according to a senior administration official who talked to USA Today.
The Pope also released a statement congratulating both parties on the agreement.
In a press conference, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) blasted the deal for simple capitulation to an authoritarian regime. Rubio — who is Catholic and a Cuban-American — directly criticized the Pope for his role. Rubio said that he would “ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy.” Rubio added that he thought “the people of Cuba deserve to have the same chances at Democracy as the people of Argentina have had, where he’s from.”
Some Catholic scholars, however, disagreed with Rubio’s notion that the Pope was acting out of character. Stephen Schneck, a professor at Catholic University, said the announcement “stems from the Vatican’s long-standing desire to overcome conflictual divisions between nations” and is “very much part of the pope’s own understanding of proper foreign relations.”