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Local GOP Leaders Slam US Flag Raising In Havana

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Just two days before Secretary of State John Kerry raises the American flag at the re-opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, some Republican South Florida congressional leaders are calling the historic event an offensive, shameful spectacle.

"He might as well be raising the white flag of surrender because that is what this shameful day is really about," said U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

Diaz-Balart, along with U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have been adamantly opposed to the re-establishment of normalized relations with Cuba from the start. The call Cuba a harbor for terrorist and a threat to our national security.

"The administration's response is 'no biggie, no big deal, ah we're just going to forget about all that'," said Ros-Lehtinen.

Both Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen expressed disgust at an Associated Press report that the Obama administration did not invite Cuban dissidents to Friday's ceremony.

"That's sending a message to the dissidents that they form no role in this new relationship between the United States and Cuba. That they are forgotten, they are disregarded, so much so that even 100 were arrested and nobody bats and eyelash," said Ros-Lehtinen.

The Obama administration has said the best way to improve Cuba's abuse of human rights is to engage the Castro regime.

"Cuban dissidents are the legitimate representatives of the Cuban people and it is they who deserve America's red carpet treatment,‎ not Castro regime officials," said Republican Senator Marco Rubio in a statement. "What a pathetic policy President Obama has embarked on that shuns Cuban dissidents like this, yet has welcomed Castro regime officials to the White House."

Former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart helped establish some of the tough laws concerning Cuba over the past decade or so. He said the thought of working with the Cuba government makes him cringe.

Polls show a majority of Americans support opening up Cuba to U.S. interests. But Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart have vowed to fight against the removal of sanctions against the island nation. They point out that only Congress has the power to lift the embargo. If the administration wants their support, certain key things must happen first in Cuba.

"All political prisoners must be released, fair and multi-party elections must be scheduled and fundamental human rights in Cuba must be respected," said Ros-Lehtinen.

Cuban American poet and South Florida native Richard Blanco wrote a poem to be read during the ceremony as Secretary of State John Kerry is raising the flag. Blanco calls it a dream come true.

"The metaphor of the poem is the sea. And the sea has always been the thing that has divided Cuba and the rest of the Cubans and the rest of the world," Blanco said.

But not all of his fellow Cuban-Americans applaud his decision to support the ceremony," said Blanco.

Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart had harsh words for artists taking part in the event.

"It's ironic that artists who have come to the Unites States, go there, do their thing, while they're there, Cuban artists are imprisoned for just trying to do what they want to do with their own art."

CBS4 anchor Rick Folbaum is in Havana and will attend the ceremony to re-open the U.S. Embassy.


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