The historic announcement that the U.S. and Cuba will be taking steps to restore diplomatic relations exploded with praise, skepticism and criticism on social media.
Talks between both countries, facilitated by Pope Francis and the Canadian government, led to the release of Alan P. Gross, an American contractor who had been held in a Cuban prison for five years. In return President Obama announced the U.S. will release Cuban political prisoners.
N.J. Sen. Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, put out a statement following the announcement of the prisoner exchange, saying the “asymmetrical” exchange sets a dangerous precedent for future U.S. foreign relations – with other countries including Cuba.
“It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips,” Menendez writes. “I fear that today’s actions will put at risk the thousands of Americans that work overseas to support civil society, advocate for access to information, provide humanitarian services, and promote democratic reforms.
President Obama said in the speech that he recognized there are those who are opposed to these actions, but that the Cuban embargo had not worked for over 5 decades. This elicited strong reaction, including from some egislators and policy makers.
Prominent Cubans and Cuban-Americans had mixed responses.
In a speech from Cuba, President Raul Castro thanked President Obama for his willingness to speak with him about the negotiations.
“While acknowledging our profound differences, particularly on issues related to national sovereignty, democracy, human rights and foreign policy, I reaffirm our willingness to dialogue on all these issues,” Castro said. “I call upon the Government of the United States to remove the obstacles hindering or restricting ties between peoples, families, and citizens of both countries, particularly restrictions on travelling, direct post services, and telecommunications.”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio said he intends to block this “dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people’s expense” when he becomes Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee.
Speaker of the House John Boehner condemned facilitating a deal with Cuba, saying it “emboldens state sponsors of terrorism.”
"Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom – and not one second sooner,” Boehner writes. “There is no 'new course' here, only another in a long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship that brutalizes its people and schemes with our enemies."