U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, broke with President Joe Biden on foreign policy issues twice in as many days this week: first over the continuing normalization of relations with Cuba, and today over the plan to ease restrictions in Venezuela.
Yesterday, the Biden administration announced that it was lifting some sanctions on Cuba, including allowing Americans to travel to the country in groups, permitting U.S. flight destinations beyond Havana, and resuming the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program that had been suspended by former President Donald Trump.
Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, quickly released a statement disapproving of the decision to relax rules on American tourists going to Cuba, which he said was an authoritarian state that has not reformed itself even in the face of earlier relaxation of sanctions. (He did, however, note his support for restarting the reunification program.)
“I am dismayed to learn the Biden administration will begin authorizing group travel to Cuba through visits akin to tourism,” Menendez said. “To be clear, those who still believe that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial. For decades, the world has been traveling to Cuba and nothing has changed.”
Then, today, several outlets reported that the Biden administration plans on softening its oil restrictions in Venezuela, where dictatorial President Nicolás Maduro has long been the target of U.S. ire. Once again, Menendez said that such a move was a mistake.
“From Tehran to Havana to Pyongyang, history shows us negotiations based on unilateral concessions have a failed track record of producing actual changes to the behavior of authoritarian regimes,” he said. “Giving Maduro a handful of undeserved handouts just so his regime will promise to sit down at a negotiating table is a strategy destined to fail.”
The back-to-back statements are far from the first time Menendez has disagreed with a Democratic presidential administration from his perch in the Foreign Relations Committee. Earlier this year, Menendez called the Biden administration’s continuation of Title 42 migrant removals “abhorrent”; during President Barack Obama’s time in office, the senator sparred with the president over the Iran Deal and the initial normalization of relations with Cuba.