FERNLEY, Nev. — Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) joined the chorus of Republicans criticizing President Obama's last-ditch effort to close the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, then added his own wrinkle. Perhaps, he said, the president who was about to visit Cuba wanted to do a favor for its Communist leadership.

"I believe that President Obama intends to try to give the Guantanamo naval facility to Raul and Fidel Castro as a parting gift," said Cruz to around 200 voters in this small city 30 minutes east of Reno. "Four decades ago, Jimmy Carter gave away the Panama Canal. We built it, we paid for it, and then a feckless left-wing president gave it away to undermine this country. Well, Mr. President, you don't have the authority to give away vital military assets!"

There has been no serious discussion of handing over Guantanamo to Cuba. The debate over the Panama Canal, by contrast, boiled over in the politics of the late 1970s, with Ronald Reagan coining the phrase that Cruz used — "we built it, we paid for it, it's ours" — to win votes against then-President Gerald Ford in the 1976 Republican primary.

Cruz's father, Rafael Cruz, is a Cuban immigrant who fought with pro-Castro rebels as a young man but later became a vehement opponent of the Castro government.

The rest of Cruz's remarks more closely resembled Republican criticism of the plan.

"Let me say this Mr. President: Don't shut down Gitmo, expand it, and let's have some new terrorists there," Cruz said. "How on Earth does any president look in the eyes of a mother or father whose son or daughter lost his life capturing these terrorists and justify, we're going to release them again, when we know a very high percentage of them are going to return to waging jihad, to try to murder innocent Americans, and the next American is going to look into the eyes of another father or mother and say their son or daughter is going to go have to get them? Enough with kissing up to the politically correct leftists! I'm sorry you're too terrified to say 'radical' Islamic terrorism."