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Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio bash Cuba flag raising

Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush walks down the main concourse during a visit to the Iowa State Fair, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush walks down the main concourse during a visit to the Iowa State Fair, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. AP

As Secretary of State John Kerry helped raise a U.S. flag above a newly opened US embassy in Havana, Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio criticized the administration’s outreach to Cuba, with Bush saying it reflects Obama’s “strategy of accommodation and appeasement.”

Bush, the former Florida governor, called the flag raising a “birthday present” for Fidel Castro, who turned 89 on Thursday. And he said Kerry’s visit was “especially insulting” for Cuban dissidents who were barred from the official ceremony – a decision he said was “yet another concession to the Castros.”

“We need an American president who will work in solidarity with a free Cuban people,” Bush said. “If I am elected president, I will reverse Obama’s strategy of accommodation and appeasement.”

Rubio, who spoke just before Kerry’s plane arrived on the island, vowed to repeal Obama’s outreach to Cuba unless the Castro government carries out “meaningful political and human rights reforms." And he promised that if elected president he'd invite dissidents of repressed countries to his inauguration.

“In the eyes of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the Cuban people are suffering because not enough American tourists visit the country,“ the Florida senator said at an event hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative. “The truth is the Cuban people are suffering because they live in a tyrannical dictatorship.”

Some recent polls, however, show that the vast majority of voters, even in Florida, support normalizing relations with the island after decades of isolation. That could allow Democrats, including Hillary Clinton to argue that Bush, Rubio and many of the other Republican candidates are out of date and out of touch.

The former Secretary of State declared her allegiance to the policy at a speech in Miami last month, calling for Congress to go a step further and lift the U.S. trade embargo.

The U.S., she said, “must decide between engagement and embargo, between embracing fresh thinking and returning to Cold War deadlock.”

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