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'Sad' day for Miami GOP members of Congress over Cuban embassy opening

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The three amigos, as U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen calls herself and Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, watched Monday morning from Miami as the Cuban flag rose once again in Washington D.C.

In the afternoon, they gathered in Ros-Lehtinen's district office to declare it a "sad" day for Cuban Americans who have fought to keep the dictatorship isolated until the Castro regime becomes a democracy. The three Miami Republicans stood next to posters brandishing images of beaten up Cuban dissidents and the four men who died shot down by the Cuban government in the Brothers to the Rescue flights of 1996.

"There is not enough room in this office to display the faces of the opposition," Ros-Lehtinen said. 

Diaz-Balart said he won't consider a Cuban ambassador or other diplomats representatives of the people who live on the island.

"Cuba's true leaders, those are the ones that are in the prisons,"  Diaz-Balart said, or who've had their professional licenses or rationing cards taken away as a punishment for their political views. "The Castro regime is not the Cuban people. If only we had a president who knew the difference."

Curbelo, a freshman who represents the most vulnerable of the three districts, echoed Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart's concerns about Cuban spies disguised as embassy personnel entering the U.S.

"Now those spies have a base," he said. All three pledged to oppose any legislative efforts to lift the trade embargo against Cuba, or to provide more funding to the State Department to fund the U.S. embassy in Havana.

Appearing side-by-side with the members of Congress was former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the older of the two brothers, whom Ros-Lehtinen recognized for leading the charge while in office to codify the embargo into law.

"Thanks to Lincoln, President Obama today wasn't able to do much more damage," Ros-Lehtinen said. Diaz-Balart said Obama's move to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba nevertheless "violates the spirit" of the embargo law, which says the sanctions can't be lifted until Cuba agrees to a series of steps, including freeing political prisoners, holding free multiparty elections and allowing freedom of the press and of assembly.

Diaz-Balart also made a cryptic reference to unnamed "other lobbyists" who will try to appeal to Congress on Cuba's behalf. "I think we're going to see one in September address you," he said, apparently referring to Pope Francis, who plans to visit the U.S. and Cuba.

"I hope I'm wrong," Diaz-Balart said later, when a Miami Herald reporter asked him for clarification.

Photo credit: Hector Gabino, el Nuevo Herald