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Sen. Marco Rubio to lead U.S. Senate hearing on U.S. embargo against Cuba

As chairman of foreign relations subcommittee on Western hemisphere, Rubio says he will focus on human rights

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(AP FILE)

MIAMI – As the new chairman of the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee's subcommittee on Western hemisphere, Sen. Marco Rubio is expected to continue to voice his opinion on the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

The potential 2016 presidential candidate from West Miami was officially named chairman Wednesday. His first hearing will include a discussion about the impact that loosening the embargo will have on the Communist island.

The former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives said in a statement that he is going to focus on the lack of individual freedoms in Cuba and Venezuela, where they "are all but a dream."

Tension among some Republicans and Democrats has been building since President Barack Obama's Dec. 17 announcement that the U.S. Department of Justice was going to be releasing Cuban spies.

Cuban President Raul Castro released a government contractor and 53 political prisoners, some of whom have been reportedly re-arrested. And during a Wednesday speech, he listed a series of demands. Among them was that the U.S. has to stop occupying the Guantanamo Bay land.

Rubio sided with Miami's Cuban exiles in his outrage of the presidential State of the Union address' mention of a change in policy. He fears the change could have a negative impact on human rights on the Communist island.

His first hearing is set to begin at 10 a.m., Feb. 3, only weeks after two days  of historic diplomatic negotiations in Havana.

Rubio will also be a member of the subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and international cyber security policy; the subcommittee on near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and counter terrorism; and the subcommittee on Africa and global health policy.

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Sen. Marco Rubio's statement:

Being from Florida, I've seen how events in the Western Hemisphere not only impact our state but our entire nation. For too long, Congress and the Administration have failed to prioritize our relations in this hemisphere. This lack of attention has kept us from seizing the opportunities of a rising middle class, emboldened tyrants and non-state actors to erode democratic values, allowed global competitors to deepen their influence in the continent, and diminished our ability to respond to the proliferation of transnational organized crime and the violence and instability associated with it.

 As chairman of the subcommittee, I will promote bold measures that improve U.S. economic and security interests by addressing the region's growing calls for transparent institutions, access to quality education, private sector competitiveness, and respect for political and economic freedom for all.

 I look forward to advocating for closer ties with Canada, Mexico, and other regional partners such as Colombia as well as greater energy cooperation and trade. The subcommittee will be a platform for bringing light and solutions to rising problems in the hemisphere, such as growing in hospitality for individual freedoms, deteriorating security environments, lagging competitiveness, ineffective regional organizations, the need for political stability and economic prosperity in Haiti, and the promotion and support of democracy in places where individual freedoms are all but a dream, such as Cuba and Venezuela.

 I hope to also continue my work on the U.S. government's efforts to promote democracy and advance human rights around the world, to support the fair and equitable treatment of women around the globe, and increase religious freedom. This is another set of issues that has far too often been neglected by this administration. I plan to continue to be a voice for the oppressed, whether they be in our own hemisphere or on the other side of the globe. I look forward to working to ensure that U.S. programs aimed at advancing these freedoms are effective and achieving results that are consistent with our values as a nation.

 I also intend to remain active on the East Asia and Pacific subcommittee by supporting our strong alliances in Asia and working to address the challenges confronting that vitally important region which will play a significant role in shaping the 21st century. It's clear that American leadership has achieved a great deal in this region in recent decades, and now it's important that we take none of our gains for granted and continue working with our allies to advance our security, economic and human rights agenda.