President Barack Obama's trip to Cuba is giving the five Republican candidates running for the U.S. Senate a chance to brandish their anti-Castro credentials, blast the president's foreign policy approach and take a few swipes at one another.
In the days before Obama leaves for the three-day trip, each of the leading Republicans has repeated their criticism that Obama has failed to extract enough in return from the Castro administration. But don't think that means they are in lockstep on Cuba strategy.
In Tampa on Friday, U.S. Rep. David Jolly restated his opposition to Obama visiting Cuba, but made clear he supports easing travel restrictions with the nation as a way to test the convictions of Cuban leader Ramon Castro.
"The more travel expands, the more economic enrichment happens on the island," Jolly, R-Indian Shores, said at a meeting of Tampa Tiger Bay Club. "Let's watch what Castro does with that economic enrichment. Does he do it to lift people up out of poverty and ensure a free economy for his people… or to empower his regime? That would be the ultimate test."
That's a "naive approach" Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera, a Miami Republican, said in a separate interview Friday. He said the Castros have an "iron fisted grip on every aspect of life on the island." He said increasing travel only leads to more money for the dictatorship and emboldens the regime.
"The embargo stands for, and should continue to stand for, human rights and freedom," said Lopez-Cantera, the son of Cuban refugees. He said the embargo needs to stay in place until the Castros no longer control the island.