Inside Marco Rubio’s Cuba—The Way He Sees It

President Obama has made historic steps towards restoring relations with Cuba after nearly a half-century of diplomatic freeze. But Republican Presidential hopeful and Cuban-American Marco Rubio says these new policies will be short-lived once he takes office.

“When I'm President, the U.S. will not diplomatically recognize the Cuban government. I would honor the Cuban Democracy Act, which is pre-existing law that governs our relationship with Cuba and says that in order for U.S. policy to change the Cuban government must make changes too,” Rubio tells in an interview.

As the son of Cuban immigrants, he says the changes that are happening are actually a bitter moment for many of his people who grew up in and around the Cuban exile community.

“It is as if we have now agreed that Castro and oppression get to stay. It would be one thing if this was part of a change in our policies in exchange for a change in Cuban policies, but this is a unilateral change. We are changing toward Cuba, but Cuba isn't changing toward us or its people. For many, it feels like we are accepting that the Cuban people forever will have to live under a repressive government,” he says.

Obama announced earlier this summer that the United States will formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and will re-open embassies in each other’s countries. He said that the efforts to isolate Cuba despite our good intentions had the opposite effects and it ended up isolating us from our neighbors.

“On issues of common interest - like counterterrorism, disaster response, and development - we will find new ways to cooperate with Cuba.  And I’ve been clear that we will also continue to have some very serious differences.  That will include America’s enduring support for universal values, like freedom of speech and assembly, and the ability to access information.  And we will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values,” Obama said in a statement back in July.

Rubio, a first-term Florida Senator who was born in the U.S., says he represents all the Cuban exiles who wanted a better life, especially his grandfather who would tell him stories about life in Cuba for hours on the porch.

“In his stories, I sensed that he wondered what he could have achieved had he been born in a different time and place,” he said.

“My grandfather loved this country and he never took it for granted, because he knew what life was like outside of it. He knew first-hand that for almost all of human history, economic prosperity belonged primarily to those born into families with power and influence. And he knew America was different because it was founded on the belief that every human being has a God given right to pursue a happy life. It put in place a free enterprise economy that rewards merit and work rather than social status and privilege.”

Rubio says the one thing that most Americans don’t understand is that there is still no such thing as a Cuban economy.

“There is a cartel that runs everything from the airport to the gas stations to the hotels, and any increased business in Cuba is increased revenue for a military dictatorship that used it to further oppress the Cuban people,” he adds.

He says while President Obama has been quick to deal with the oppressors, he has been very slow on dealing with the oppressed.

“The Obama Administration’s unilateral lifting of sanctions offers the Cuban regime a lifeline. It means more revenue to a repressive and brutal regime that continues to jail and beat its political opponents and give safe havens to the Chinese and Russians,” he says.

When asked about Cuba’s large oil reserves and the opportunity for U.S. to partner with them to improve our energy policy, Rubio says Cuban oil is no different than Venezuelan oil.

“Members of the Castro regime would use it as their own personal piggy bank, both for personal enrichment and also to fund their governmental operations at the expense of the Cuban people.”

In July, the NY Times wrote a piece, “Marco Rubio is Hardly a Hero in Cuba. He Likes That,” about how the presidential candidate is the island’s least favorite son. Rubio says the story was an expose of the Castro regime’s propaganda on him.

“The Cuban people don’t have any access to alternative methods of communication. It’s not a coincidence that every person has the same opinion. I’m proud that the Castro regime feels threatened by us. They fear freedom and democracy,” he says.

Rubio, who has never visited Cuba says he would love to visit a “free” and “democratic” Cuba one day and vows that on his inauguration he will invite Cuban dissidents and freedom fighters from around the world to be honored.

“Growing up, I was surrounded by a community of Cuban exiles, and to many I represent their children and grandchildren’s generation. My success and the success of any American of Cuban descent of my generation, is their answer. Our lives, accomplishments and contributions are a lasting tribute to theirs. It affirms that their lives have had purpose and meaning.”