Potential U.S. Republican 2016 contenders spar over Cuba policy

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 19, 2014 1:49 PM

By Gabriel Debenedetti

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Neither is officially running for president yet, but potential Republican 2016 presidential candidates Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have trading barbs about Cuba in what were the opening shots of an intraparty fight over U.S. policy toward Havana.

Rubio, a Cuban-American freshman senator from Florida, has become the face of Republican opposition to the White House's plan to normalize relations with Cuba.

Paul, a Kentucky senator who has fought to shed the "isolationist" label he often receives, had said the Cuban embargo was ineffectual.

"Like many people who have been opining, (Paul) has no idea what he's talking about," Rubio said on Fox News late on Thursday.

Paul responded with a Facebook post and a series of tweets on Friday, pointing out that most Cuban-Americans support a resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

"Seems to me, Senator Rubio is acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat," Paul wrote. "I reject this isolationism."

Rubio has spent months bolstering his reputation as a supporter of a more assertive foreign policy, and he has long been critical of Cuba's Castro brothers. He said on Wednesday he would work in Congress to roll back President Barack Obama's action.

Rubio's parents are Cuban immigrants.

His name and face were plastered on televisions and newspapers all over the country after Wednesday's announcement as he seized the opportunity to lead the opposition.

While Paul did not initially step into the fray, he spoke about the policy in a local radio interview on Thursday. His remarks set him starkly apart from other probable Republican White House hopefuls who condemned the administration plan.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal also released statements in opposition.

Likely Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton, who advocated a looser Cuba policy during her time as Secretary of State, said she supported Obama.

(Reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti. Editing by Andre Grenon)