Trump: Rubio and I have ‘very similar views on Cuba’

Presidente Donald Trump with Senator Marco Rubio during the presidential campaign in 2016..
Presidente Donald Trump with Senator Marco Rubio during the presidential campaign in 2016.. AP

President Donald Trump said during a press conference Thursday that he shares Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s views on Cuba.

“We had dinner with Senator Rubio and his wife, who was by the way, lovely, and we had a very good discussion about Cuba because we have very similar views on Cuba,” Trump told journalists.

“Cuba has been very good to me, in the Florida elections, you know, the Cuban people, Americans,” he added in reference to the support of Cuban American voters.

Former rival Rubio and his wife had dinner with Trump and First Lady Melania on Wednesday night, after the president received Lilian Tintori, the wife of the Venezuelan political prisoner Leopoldo López in the White House. A smiling Rubio posed for a photo with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Tintori.

The comment suggests a possible change in Cuba policy since Rubio was one of the staunchest critics of former President Barack Obama’s engagement with Cuba, especially in the area of human rights.

Rubio and New Jersey Democrat Senator Bob Menéndez, also Cuban American, introduced a bill this week to “reform” the human trafficking report produced annually by the State Department. Both senators expressed their displeasure with the improvement of Cuba’s ranking in the report, from the worst level to the “tier 2 watch list” in 2015. Several proposals included in the bill would likely affect Cuba’s position in the report.

Rubio, who was reappointed as chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee in the Senate, has also been one of the most active politicians in Washington on Venezuela. On Monday, he gave a speech on the Senate’s floor in which he called for the release of López and stated his hope for new sanctions to come against the government of Nicolás Maduro. Earlier this week, the Trump administration froze the assets of Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami for alleged links to drug trafficking.

During his campaign, Trump promised that he would negotiate a “better deal” with the Cuban government or would reverse Obama’s measures. White House Spokesman Sean Spicer has said that Cuba policy was under review and that human rights would be a priority.

On Thursday afternoon, Rubio was scheduled to chair a hearing on the need for U.S. leadership on democracy and human rights in the Americas. Among the speakers was Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, who was recently released from prison in Havana following his arrest for using street art to celebrate the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres