U.S. policy toward Cuba could get tougher, just as the island prepares for a historic change in government.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio told el Nuevo Herald he expected the State Department to expand a list of sanctioned entities controlled by the Cuban military.
“In my opinion, the list issued by the State Department under [Rex] Tillerson of entities under sanction was not enough,” Rubio, who helped the Donald Trump administration to shape its policy toward Cuba and draft the new restrictions on military companies that are part of the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA), said during an interview in Lima on Saturday.
“I have a lot of confidence that Mike Pompeo, who I know very well, who supported me when I ran for president, will adjust that list so that it really includes all the corresponding entities, which should be on that list as entities controlled by the Cuban military,” he added.
Pompeo must be confirmed by the Senate to replace Tillerson as the new Secretary of State.
Experts estimate that GAESA, led by Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, son-in-law of current Cuba ruler Raúl Castro, controls 60 percent of the Cuban economy. The current blacklist includes 180 companies, including hotels, factories, stores and other businesses controlled by the Cuban armed forces.
Rubio, who was in Peru to attend the eighth Summit of the Americas, also said he expected the region to reject the new government within the framework of the Organization of American States (OAS).
This week, the National Assembly is expected to name a successor to Raúl Castro, who will leave the presidency but is expected to remain as head of the Communist Party. If that happens, it will represent the first time since the mid-'70s that a Castro will no longer hold the presidential seat.
According to the Florida senator, the new U.S. ambassador to the OAS, Carlos Trujillo, has plans to propose a vote on a resolution rejecting the new government.
“We are going to see if an organization that was created to defend democracy is willing or not to criticize what is not a democracy. I hope there is a vote on that as soon as possible, after what happens in Cuba in terms of a fraudulent transition,” said Rubio.
Following calls from OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro and about 30 Latin American and Spanish former leaders “to reject the Cuban dictatorship,” it remains unclear if the governments of the region have an appetite to impose new sanctions on Cuba or to isolate it politically. During the Summit held in Lima, few heads of state referred to Cuba directly, while the focus of attention was on Venezuela.
Rubio mentioned some of the reasons he believed there is a lack of action about Cuba from other governments in the hemisphere.
On one hand, “many of those in the region I spoke to hope that something will change with a new generation. I hope they are correct in that, I'm not waiting for it,” said Rubio, who held meetings with Presidents Mauricio Macri of Argentina, Jovenel Moise of Haiti and Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, as well as meetings with Peruvian officials.
On the other hand, in terms of the “geopolitics of the region, Cuba is irrelevant. It has no power,” Rubio said, although “it has helped to guide the regime in Venezuela.”
“But, really, it is up to the people of Cuba to decide their economic system. ... What interests me is democracy,” he added. “I want the Cubans to be able to choose between several candidates for different positions, with different opinions. Why wouldn’t the Cuban people deserve what almost all the peoples of this hemisphere have?”