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Cuban dissent? Marco Rubio's sharp words about historic embassy opening

Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida has consistently been one of the sharpest critics of President Obama's plan to reestablish relations with Cuba.

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Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida steps on the stage to speak at the RedState Gathering in Atlanta, Aug. 7. Senator Rubio will lay out a strategy on Friday, to deal with the 'tyrannical regimes' of Cuba and Iran, the same day Secretary of State John Kerry attends a historic flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

David Goldman/AP

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Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio is unabashed about his opposition to President Obama’s foreign policy, especially when it comes to Cuba.

Mr. Rubio is set to lay out sharp criticism of the president's foreign policy as evidence of 'every flawed strategic, moral, and economic notion' and that Mr. Obama had made no attempt 'to stand on the side of freedom,' in a speech at the conservative-leaning think tank the Foreign Policy Initiative on Friday – the same day Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to re-open the US embassy in Havana.

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A Cuban-American Senator from Florida, Rubio is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and touts himself as a candidate who understands foreign policy. He is also particularly opposed to the recent rapprochement with Cuba, and has lambasted the Obama regime for not extracting sufficient concessions from the communist nation.

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“My interest in Cuba is singular. I want them to have freedom and democracy,” Rubio said during a Christian Science Monitor-hosted breakfast in January.

The Obama administration, however, says that normalizing ties with Cuba after more than 50 years of hostilities and trade embargos failed to end the rule of Fidel Castro’s communist government, is the right move. Cuba is far more likely to transition to democracy in the long-run if the United States cultivates a cordial diplomatic relationship with the tiny island, Obama administration officials say.

“We don’t want to be imprisoned by the past,” Obama said about Cuba during a visit to Kingston, Jamaica, in April. “When something doesn’t work for 50 years, you don’t just keep on doing it. You try something new.”

And during an April interview with Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, the president expressed a belief that America is powerful enough to risk modifying the foreign policy status quo.

“We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing ... people don’t seem to understand,” the president said.

“You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies.

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But Rubio, whose parents immigrated from Cuba 50-years prior, isn’t convinced.

"He [the President] has been quick to deal with the oppressors, but slow to deal with the oppressed," Rubio says in excerpts of prepared comments released by his campaign. "And his excuses are paper-thin."

For an in-depth look at the significance of Friday's reopening of the US embassy in the Cuban capital of Havana, see Monitor foreign policy reporter Howard LaFranchi's analysis.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.