Cruz blasts Obama's Cuba visit, but was silent when Abbott went there

Houston Chronicle

By: Dylan Baddour

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's fiery condemnation of President Barack Obama's Cuba visit stands in contrast to his silence when his friend and mentor, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, did the same thing last December. 

Cruz, a Cuban-American candidate for the Republican nomination for president, unleashed a scathing critique on Sunday as Obama prepared for America's first presidential visit in almost a century to the United States' island neighbor.

In an op-ep published by Politico, Cruz wrote, "It is so sad, and so injurious to our future as well as Cuba's, that Obama has chosen to legitimize the corrupt and oppressive Castro regime with his presence on the island."

Cruz's political opponents were quick to compare that response with the senator's silence when Abbott became the third U.S. governor to visit Cuba, one year after Obama moved to ease travel restrictions that long had barred Americans from visiting the island.

Abbott, a long-time friend and mentor to Cruz, went to Cuba to cultivate economic relations, anticipating a loosening of the decades-old trade embargo imposed by the United States.

Obama arrived in Cuba Monday to showcase a change in U.S.-Cuba relations which he described as "a new day...between our two countries."

"You cannot equate the two," Cruz campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said. "Cruz opposes President Obama's policy to give an economic lifeline to Cuba. However, he understands the difficult position that governors are put in by this ill-advised policy, and the responsibility they have to promote and grow their own economies for their own states."

The Texas Democratic Party released a statement Monday highlighting the discrepancies in Cruz's responses. In it, Executive Director Manny Garcia said Cruz "will lie, do, and say anything to gain power."

Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, dismissed the suggestion of controversy.

"It's just business as usual," Jillson said. "Politics is not about truth telling. It's about telling the part of the truth that puts you in the best light and your opponent in the worst light."

He also acknowledged a difference in the two leaders' visits: Abbott pursued business development while Obama's trip is seen widely as a symbolic gesture, capping off his push to thaw U.S.-Cuban relations.

Steven Law, a senior Republican adviser for the advocacy group Engage Cuba, said, "Gov. Abbott's trip to Cuba was a huge step forward, in terms of both furthering the dialogue on our country's relationship with Cuba and opening the door of opportunity for Texas businesses and agricultural interests. President Obama's trip is a continuation of a policy shift that he initiated in December 2014, which has led to American business and leaders like Gov. Abbott exploring the potential of this emerging market."

Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, regards Cuba with particular passion.

In his biography, he described his family's convoluted experience with the Cuban regimes. Cruz's father, once a young volunteer for Cuba's revolutionary forces, weathered brutal beatings in the jails of U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, and fled the island.

Then Castro's leftist rebels ousted Batista, and soon imprisoned and tortured Cruz's aunt.

Cruz advocates aligning with Cuba's political dissidents against the nation's almost 60-year-old Castro regime.