Senator Ted Cruz has claimed President Barack Obama is planning to give the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base back to Cuba “by the end of this year”.
The Republican presidential hopeful dismissed Obama as “an apologist” for attempting to normalize diplomatic relations with Havana and argued there was a profound risk his administration would attempt to shut down Guantanamo in the coming months.
The assertions were made during Wednesday night’s CNN Town Hall event in South Carolina, which saw Texas Senator Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson go head-to-head with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Senators Cruz and Rubio, both of Cuban descent, appeared to find common ground in attacking President Obama’s bid to restore America’s tumultuous relationship with Cuba – which Marco Rubio called an “anti-American Communist dictatorship”.
Yet it was Senator Cruz who stole the show after voicing his fears that President Obama was keen to do a lot more than simply rub shoulders with the Castro regime.
“I fear by the end of this year President Obama plans to give the Guantanamo Navy Base back to Cuba. I hope he doesn’t do that,” Cruz said. “I think it is a profound risk.”
Senator Cruz went on to make his own case for maintaining the status quo at Gitmo, arguing that an “alarming” percentage of former Guantanamo inmates went on to engage in acts of terrorism immediately after being released.
“The people in Guantanamo at this point, it’s down to the worst of the worst,” Cruz said. “A really alarming percentage of the people released from Guantanamo return immediately to waging Jihad, return immediately to going back trying to murder Americans.”
It also came to light during Wednesday night’s broadcast that President Obama would be going on an official state visit to Havana in March – which will make him the first US President to set foot on Cuban soil since 1928.
When asked about the impending trip, Cruz said he was unsurprised, adding he thought the president would be acting “as an apologist” to the Castro regime.
“My family has seen firsthand the evil and the oppression in Cuba,” Cruz said. “We need a president that stands up to our enemies.”
The Senator’s father, Rafael Cruz, joined the Cuban revolution at the age of 14 and was jailed for his involvement by the Batista regime. He later fled to the US in the 1950s, before Fidel Castro rose to power.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio echoed the concerns of Senator Cruz, and said Obama should not visit Cuba “as long as the Castros are in power.”
“And I’ll tell you, the problem with the Cuban government is that it’s not just a Communist dictatorship, it’s an anti-American Communist dictatorship,” Rubio said.
Washington’s evolving relationship with Cuba has emerged as a ringer issue in the run up to Saturday’s primary. Although South Carolina plays home to fewer than 6,000 Cuban-Americans, the city of Charleston was earmarked by government officials last year as a potential location in which to house former Guantanamo detainees.
President Obama announced his intentions to shut down the controversial detention center at Guantanamo Bay shortly after his inauguration in 2009. Yet despite the successful transfer of many detainees in recent months, the White House has yet to issue a formal plan of action with which to actually decommission the base.
At the start of the week, outspoken real estate tycoon and Republican front-runner Donald Trump announced a characteristically long-winded press conference specifically to address the issue of Guantanamo.
“They should not be closing it in any way, shape, or form,” Trump told reporters. “I’d keep it open.”
According to pollsters at Bloomberg, Trump is currently enjoying a comfortable lead in South Carolina at 36 percent. Ted Cruz is polling at 17%. Despite earning the endorsement of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Senator Rubio is currently trailing in third place, with just 15 percent.
[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]