House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday argued that the violence seen in Panama this week, allegedly instigated by supporters of the Cuban government, calls into question plans by President Barack Obama to normalize relations with Cuba and drop trade and travel restrictions against the island.
"The assault on Cuban democracy protestors in Panama City, including Jorge Luis García Pérez – who attended the State of the Union as my guest this year – is an outrage and a reminder of the brutal character of the Castro regime," Boehner said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has his doubts about President Obama's plan to normalize relations with Cuba, especially after Cuban agents turned violent against pro-democracy demonstrators in Panama City on Wednesday. Image: Pool/Getty Images
On Wednesday, several people were beaten after holding a pro-democracy protest in Panama City, Panama, the site of this week's Summit of the Americas. Protestors there on the scene said they were beaten by agents of the Cuban government.
The man Boehner mentioned is a Cuban national, but at least one U.S. citizen, Orlando Gutierrez, was also beaten as he tried to leave the scene in a vehicle.
The event happened just a day before Obama's visit to Panama City, where he may have a chance to quickly meet with Cuban President Raul Castro. Boehner said if the two meet, Obama needs to condemn the violence against the pro-democracy demonstrators.
"I hope that President Obama, if and when he has a conversation with the Cuban dictator during the Organization of American States summit, will take the opportunity to condemn this violence in the strongest possible terms and reaffirm that the United States should and must always stand on the side of human rights and democracy against Communist tyranny," he said.
As of early Thursday afternoon, however, the only reaction to the event was a tweet from the State Department saying it was "concerned."
The incident took place at possibly the worst possible time for Obama. Aside from his participation in Panama this week, the administration is considering a recommendation to take Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
That move has the potential to prompt legislation in Congress aimed at blocking that decision, and Boehner said Thursday he opposes the move in light of the attack in Panama.
"It raises serious questions about the wisdom of revisiting diplomatic relations with Cuba and removing the country from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terror while this dictatorship, which practices repression at home and supports violence throughout the region, continues to hold power," he said.
The administration is also trying to re-establish formal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and wants to start a discussion about a further easing of trade and travel restrictions.