March 12, 2013— -- Sen. Marco Rubio recently slammed Americans who visit Cuba, including some of his Senate colleagues, saying that they are helping enable the island's communist government.
Rubio (R-Fla.) made his comments during a speech in Miami last weekend to the Cuba-Democracy PAC, a group that supports political candidates who take a tough stance against the Castro regime. He suggested that Americans visiting the communist island nation were treating it like a trip to the zoo.
"These trip that are traveling to Cuba. Look, God bless them, I know they mean well. But I have people come to me all the time and tell me and say, 'Oh, I went to Cuba. What a beautiful place, I feel so bad for the people,'" Rubio told the group, according to video posted by the Shark Tank, a Florida political blog.
"Cuba is not a zoo where you pay an admission ticket and you go in and you get to watch people living in cages to see how they are suffering," Rubio added. "Cuba is not a field trip. I don't take that stuff lightly."
Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, has long taken a hard line against the Castro government and has criticized the Obama administration for easing travel restrictions to Cuba.
"They tell me all the time, the community in Miami is changing," Rubio said. "The Cuban-American community is changing, they're not in favor of the embargo anymore. They're more open to travel. I don't know if that's true."
President Obama came close to winning a majority of the Cuban-American electorate in Florida in last November's election, according to a post-election survey conducted by Florida-based polling firm Bendixen and Amandi. Cuban-Americans in South Florida have long been thought of as a solid Republican bloc that strongly opposes engagement with Cuba.
Obama administration officials have argued that exposure to Americans could foster independent thinking among Cuban citizens. But Rubio has said that more travel to Cuba simply enriches the Castros.
"You just went to Cuba and to fulfill your curiosity, which I could've told you about if you'd come and seen me for five minutes, you've left thousands of dollars in the hands of a government that uses that money to control these people that you feel sorry for," he said.
Rubio said that it's appropriate for Americans to visit the island to visit a sick relative, for example. But he criticized others who frequently travel back and forth between the U.S. and Cuba.
The Florida senator also criticized some of his fellow senators for visiting the island nation.
"The thing I really get a kick out of is every year without fail, three or four of my colleagues in the Senate will travel to Cuba, they'll have their yearly meeting with [President] Raúl Castro or whoever is there. And then they come back with the same story, 'Oh, we really have our finger on the way to change policy toward Cuba. What we have today is a relic of the Cold War,'" Rubio said. "That's what they say. It is a relic of the Cold War, but our policy is not the relic. The relic is the Cuban government, that's the relic. The relic is tyranny. The relic is communism."
A group of seven U.S. lawmakers led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) visited Cuba last month, meeting with Raúl Castro and with jailed American citizen Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned since 2009.