Marco Rubio Schools CBS's Charlie Rose on Cuba

On Monday's CBS This Morning, as Florida Senator Marco Rubio denounced President Obama's decision to reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba, co-host Charlie Rose attempted to push liberal spin on the topic: "But what about the argument that in fact – if in fact Cuba is opened up, it will change? Vietnam changed." Rubio quickly shot him down: "It did not change politically. Nor has China, for that matter."

Rose continued: "But it changed in terms – it changed to a degree in terms of its economic participation." Rubio pushed back: "Sure, but my interest is freedom and democracy....And there is no contemporary example of a country with a resistant tyranny that an economic change has opened."

Fellow co-host Norah O'Donnell led off the Cuba portion of the interview by touting reports that the Communist state had released political prisoners: "This morning, Cuba has freed all fifty-three prisoners, as agreed to in this deal. Isn't that a good step forward?"

Rubio responded by providing a fact-check:

So certainly for those fifty-three prisoners it's great news. Unfortunately, we don't know who they are. The list has been kept secret from the world. Beyond it, our understanding from the ones that have been released is many of them were at the end of their terms anyway and all have been warned that if they take up the cause of democracy they'll be right back in jail. What's forgotten here is that last year – over the last two years alone, the Cuban government has arrested thousands of people. So fifty-three versus the thousands that remain in jail.

In fact, on Monday, Fox News noted: "Cuba's leading human rights group said it had not been informed of any prisoner release since Thursday, when the total count stood at 41. The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation has been keeping close track of the liberation of prisoners since they began last week..."

Wrapping up the segment with Rubio, Rose pressed: "Will embargo be lifted by the congress? Yes or no?" Rubio replied: "I don't believe it'll be lifted by the congress until the Cuban government meets the conditions that need to be met."

Here is a transcript of the January 12 exchange:

8:37 AM ET

(...)

NORAH O'DONNELL: I want to get your take on Cuba because you oppose, certainly, the President's recent action to normalize relations with Cuba. This morning, Cuba has freed all fifty-three prisoners, as agreed to in this deal. Isn't that a good step forward?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: So certainly for those fifty-three prisoners it's great news. Unfortunately, we don't know who they are. The list has been kept secret from the world. Beyond it, our understanding from the ones that have been released is many of them were at the end of their terms anyway and all have been warned that if they take up the cause of democracy they'll be right back in jail. What's forgotten here is that last year – over the last two years alone, the Cuban government has arrested thousands of people. So fifty-three versus the thousands that remain in jail.

And in fact, over the weekend – two weekends ago they rounded up another hundred-some-odd  people because they planned to go to a public square and speak out in favor of freedom and democracy.

And in return for all this, for these minimal changes of fifty-three people – and I don't mean to diminish it for those fifty-three – but in return for that, the Cubans are getting virtually everything they want from the Obama administration.

I don't have a problem with changing the U.S. policy towards Cuba, but I think it has to be a reciprocal change where economic openings equals reciprocal political openings on the island.

CHARLIE ROSE: But what about the argument that in fact – if in fact Cuba is opened up, it will change? Vietnam changed.

RUBIO: It did not change politically. Nor has China, for that matter. That's-

ROSE: But it changed in terms – it changed to a degree in terms of its economic participation.

RUBIO: Sure, but my interest is freedom and democracy. I think a free people living in a democratic order have the right to choose any economic model they want. And they could even choose socialism, as many nations in Europe have done. I wouldn't recommend it, but they could choose it.

My interest in Cuba is freedom and democracy. And there is no contemporary example of a country with a resistant tyranny that an economic change has opened. In fact, China today is as tyrannical and as oppressive as it's ever been, in some cases more so. Vietnam remains the same. Even Burma, that was the subject of an opening two years ago, has suddenly backtracked on some of the changes and openings that they've promised to make.

So my belief is that the Cuban government will pocket all of these changes to benefit the regime, which completely controls the economy, but it has already made very clear there will be no political changes on the island of Cuba and there is no contemporary example of how a tyranny resistant to change is forced to change because of economic opening.

ROSE: Quick question, will embargo be lifted by the congress? Yes or no?

RUBIO: I don't believe it'll be lifted by the congress until the Cuban government meets the conditions that need to be met.

O'DONNELL: Senator Marco Rubio, good to see you. Thank you for being here.

RUBIO: Thank you very much.

O'DONNELL: And American Dreams goes on sale tomorrow.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is the Senior News Analyst for MRC