The Post reports: “The United States and Cuba will begin talks to normalize relations, including opening an embassy in Havana and putting to rest one most enduring Cold War standoffs, a U.S. official said Wednesday. The landmark initiatives appeared to be set in motion by a surprise prisoner swap that freed American contractor Alan Gross after five years in custody in Cuba. In exchange, the United States would release three Cubans jailed for espionage.”

Creating an equivalency between Gross and a group of spies is troubling enough, but the real question is whether President Obama has abandoned the Cuban people. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a longtime opponent of normalization, argued today, “[The Cuban spies] were indicted and prosecuted in a court of law for the crimes of espionage and were linked to the murder of the humanitarian pilots of Brothers to the Rescue. There should be no equivalence between the two, and Gross should have been released unconditionally.” After recounting the litany of human rights abuses by the Castro regime he concluded, “Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté during his final two years in office. The United States will be less safe as a result of the President’s change in policy. When the U.S. is unwilling to advocate for individual liberty and freedom of political expression 90 miles from our shores, it represents a terrible setback for the hopes of all oppressed people around the globe.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), boarding a plane when news broke, said simply “I will do all in my power to block the use of funds to open an embassy in Cuba. Normalizing relations with Cuba is bad idea at a bad time. ” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) was outraged. His statement reads in part:

Let’s be clear, this was not a “humanitarian” act by the Castro regime. It was a swap of convicted spies for an innocent American.
President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government. There is no equivalence between an international aid worker and convicted spies who were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage against our nation. One spy was also convicted of conspiracy to murder for his role in the 1996 tragedy in which the Cuban military shot down two U.S. civilian planes, killing several American citizens. My heart goes out to the American families that lost love ones on that fateful day.
Trading Mr. Gross for three convicted criminals sets an extremely dangerous precedent.  It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips.

Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, did not pull any punches. “What’s missing here? The Cuban people. Human rights. Freedom of speech or press. Free elections. An end to imprisonment of peaceful demonstrators. The impression that the CNN account and other accounts give is that the United States will seek nothing in return for giving the Castro regime just about everything it wants,” he writes. He reminds us: “On human rights, liberty, individual freedom there have been no changes: Cuba remains a communist dictatorship run by the Castro’s.” Abrams recommends that the GOP majorities in the House and Senate  exercise oversight to figure out “whether the President simply forgot about the Cuban people’s rights in his urge to show he isn’t just a lame duck and can still do important things.”

In some sense this is a test run for Iran. There too the president is eager to give away the store for the sake of an agreement he can wave in the air. But in both cases sanctions are a matter of statute and Congress must assure itself that any deals are in America’s best interests, which include support for peoples under the boot of dictators. Giving up on Cubans or on Iranians would be a signal to the world that America prefers to stand with dictators not with free peoples.