Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), under fire from his colleague Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) for his isolationist response to President Obama’s overtures to normalize relations with Cuba, took to the Sunday morning shows to defend himself. Rubio has staunchly defended a 50-year-old total embargo on the country aimed at destabilizing the Castro regime.
On ABC’s This Week, Rubio claimed that increased commerce would only empower the Castro regime without improving the country’s poor human rights record. Asked how he could know that, especially after Kennedy administration’s policy has failed to loosen the Castro regime’s hold on power, Rubio extended his argument to the rest of the world, suggesting that trade and diplomacy with non-democratic countries simply do not work.
RUBIO: We have those policies of normalization toward Vietnam, for example, towards China. They’re not any more politically free today than they were when that normalization happened. They may have a bigger economy, but their political freedoms, certainly I would not hold up China or Saudi Arabia or Vietnam as examples of political freedom, proving my point, that engagement by itself does not guarantee or even lead to political freedoms.
Rubio did not offer any alternative strategy — aside from the continuation of the current unsuccessful approach — for how to engage with countries with poor human rights records. After host George Stephanapolous noted Rubio’s own previous statements that the U.S. Embassy in China could be America’s link to the Chinese people, Rubio argued that Cuba would be different because before this new agreement, the U.S. had operatives in Havana and the Cuban government undermined their efforts. Rubio also criticized an assistant secretary of state for not planning to discuss human rights on a January visit — though she said Thursday that she fully expects “human rights issues will be talked about.”
After Rubio’s deputy chief of staff took an all-expenses-paid trip to China, on the Chinese government’s dime, Rubio’s spokesman defended the trip as necessary engagement required tor “advance our advocacy on a host of foreign icy issues.”
Indeed Human Rights Watch, in its 2014 World Report noted that while its government remains authoritarian, “rapid socio-economic change in China has been accompanied by relaxation of some restrictions on basic rights,” an improvement much like Cuba’s.