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Republican lawmakers move to block relations with Cuba

Sen. Marco Rubio: We are going to do everything we can to keep embargo

MIAMI – Miriam de la Peña was in tears. She stood in front of Cuban-American lawmakers who oppose the new foreign policy toward the communist island and in front of reporters during a conference in Miami-Dade Thursday.

Her son, Mario de la Peña, a pilot volunteering for Brothers To The Rescue, was killed Feb. 24, 1996. Raul Castro ordered the killing, she said, and all he wanted to do was to help Cubans who were risking their lives at sea to get to South Florida.

"We were so hard broken," she said about learning that the U.S. released the spies accused of providing the information that would lead to her son's death.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and his older brother Lincoln Diaz-Balart held a press conference Thursday afternoon. They were with saddened relatives of the Brothers To The Rescue pilots killed and frustrated relatives of dissidents in Cuba.

Diaz-Balart , the former congressman, said in Spanish that the reason why Obama can't disrupt the tourism industry in South Florida is because when the volunteer pilots of Brothers To The Rescue were killed, he and other lawmakers worked hard to pass the embargo, which bans U.S. tourism in Cuba.

Although President Barack Obama announced diplomatic relations with Cuba will reopen, the fate of the decades-old embargo remains in the hands of Congress. The lawmakers promised to do everything in their power to obstruct Obama's efforts.

Rubio said that even today with the embargo the United States is one of Cuba's most important trade partners, because of Obama's reforms. And this, Rubio said, has supported the values of the Castro brothers, which he defined as "dictatorships, repression, jailing of their opponents and exiling the rest."

Rubio said the changes in foreign policy sends the wrong message to Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.  The ease on the embargo has a "chilling effect on democracy" in the region of Latin America, Rubio said.

Obama signed into law Thursday sanctions against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's government officials and supporters accused of being linked to human rights violations. Rubio supported the sanctions.

Rubio also said the new policies were "another concession to a tyranny"  based "on an illusion that more commerce" was going to "translate into political freedom."

The younger Diaz-Balart said in Spanish that Obama broke his word with his "cynical" claim that he was doing so to help the Cuban people, when instead he was helping the Castro brothers. The Obama administration did "exactly what they claimed they would never do," he said.

The Cuban-American Republican lawmakers have said that they will fight the foreign policy change, and will do everything in their power to create obstacles. From the move to re-establish embassies to naming an assistant secretary of state to travel to Havana in January, their goal is to maintain the embargo.

Republicans and Democrats were laser focused on paving the way for their 2016 presidential candidates, who appear to be Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. A Tuesday tweet saying he will "actively explore the possibility" overshadowed Rubio's prospects.

While the former Florida Governor left his position as a paid adviser to British bank Barclays, Rubio and his allies were bashing Obama.

Obama's administration called Alan Gross' release a "humanitarian" gesture. Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, called it "a swap of convicted spies." Gross, a U.S. contractor, was freed Wednesday after Cubans held him for five years.

Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, added that the actions will "invite further belligerence toward Cuba's opposition movement and the hardening of the government's dictatorial hold on its people."

Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying the new policy "is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries."

Speaker John Boehner said the embargo "should not be revisited" and said attempts to do so were "concessions to a dictatorship that brutalizes its people and schemes with our enemies."

Sen. Ted Cruz's father Rafael Cruz fought for Fidel Castro when he was a teen without knowing he was a communist. He had relatives who were counter-revolutionaries who were allegedly tortured in Cuba

Cruz called Obama's new strategy "a tragic mistake."