By Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald (TNS)
MIAMI — The first in a series of congressional hearings examining the potential impact of President Barack Obama’s new Cuba policy gets underway Tuesday in the Senate.
Later in the week, the action switches to the House with two hearings: the main show — “Assessing the Administration’s Sudden Shift” — before the Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday and a subcommittee hearing on human rights in Cuba on Thursday.
The common theme for this week’s hearings seems to be whether Obama gave away too much without getting enough from Cuba as the two countries work toward restoring diplomatic relations.
That’s the position of Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere subcommittee called the first Cuba hearing on Tuesday.
In an opinion piece he wrote Monday for CNN, Rubio recalled a line from The Godfather Part II in which mob character Michael Corleone responds to the demands of a U.S. senator by saying, “My offer is this: nothing.”
“In recent months, I’ve made clear that I believe the president and his allies in Congress are misguided for supporting a policy that gives away practically all the leverage the United States has to bring about democratic change in Cuba in exchange for virtually nothing,” wrote Rubio.
The senator said he wants answers on what the administration has done to secure the repatriation of an estimated 70 fugitives from U.S. justice who now live in Cuba as well as “what exactly the Castro regime has done in exchange for Obama’s softening of travel and banking regulations that will now allow more U.S. dollars to fill the Castro regime’s coffers.”
Rubio, who is testing the waters for a possible presidential run, called the hearing the same day he assumed the subcommittee chairmanship last week.
Among those scheduled to testify at the Senate hearing are Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, who recently headed the U.S. delegation during normalization talks in Havana, and Tomasz Malinowski, assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor.
Rosa Maria Paya, of the Cuban Christian Liberation Movement, also is scheduled to testify. She is the daughter of Oswaldo Paya, one of Cuba’s most respected dissidents when he died in a mysterious 2012 car crash.
She’ll be joined by activists Berta Soler, Miriam Leiva, and Manuel Cuesta Morua.
There’s expected to be an overflow crowd when the House Foreign Affairs Committee convenes Wednesday. The hearing will be webcast at www.foreignaffairs.house.gov/live-video-feed.
“The Obama administration’s sudden shift on Cuba policy raises many concerns, including how hard the United States pressed the Castro regime on its abysmal human-rights record during the secret White House negotiations that cut out the State Department,” said Republican Rep. Ed Royce, a Californian who chairs the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
“When it comes to the unilateral concessions provided to the Castro regime, the Obama administration has much to answer for. From the commercial goodie bag provided to the Castro regime to the pardons bestowed upon three convicted spies, one of whom was responsible for the murder of American citizens, the concessions provided to these Caribbean despots is pathetic,” said South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
“I look forward to hearing from State, Treasury, and Commerce and questioning the basis for normalizing relations with an unworthy regime that continues to detain dissidents,” she said.
In addition to Jacobson, John E. Smith, deputy director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Matthew S. Borman are slated to testify.
During a Thursday morning hearing on human rights before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, an anti-Castro activist known as Antunez, will testify.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr