01/24/13 - ABC News (blog) - Senator's Joke about Invading Cuba With Coeds Draws
Spring break revelers dance at the beach in the resort city of Cancun, Mexico.
(Israel Leal/AP Photo)
One senator's joke about battling Cuban communism with American college kids on
Spring Break led to an outraged verbal smackdown from another senator Thursday.
The setting was Sen. John Kerry's confirmation hearing as President Obama's
nominee to be Secretary of State.
The joker was Sen. Jeff Flake, the newly elected Republican from Arizona.
"Let me just mention one item briefly and then ask a few questions. With regard
to Cuba, I've felt, perhaps differently than some of my colleagues on this
panel, that the best way to foster change and progress toward democracy is to
allow travel, free travel of Americans, to let them go as they wish. I don't
think that that's a weakness or any capitulation at all. I think it's a - it's
a way to show strength. In fact, I've often felt that if we want a real
get-tough policy with the Castro brothers, we should force them to deal with
spring break once or twice. (Laughter.)
"But - (chuckles) - but in all seriousness, this president has taken measures to
allow more Americans to travel freely, relatives travel for religious or
cultural, education purposes. I think that's a good thing. I hope that you'll
find ways to continue that and continue more innovative approaches to deal with
Funny, right? Because he's suggesting that coeds in bikinis could accomplish
what more than a half century of American travel restrictions and boycotts could
While the 1962 travel embargo remains in effect, in 2011 President rolled back
some travel restrictions, in place since 2003, to allow students and religious
groups to visit Cuba and to allow charter flights to the island to depart from
all U.S. airports. The new guidelines also allow Americans to send up to $500
per quarter to non-family members in the Communist country.
Related: 2011 report on Obama easing some Cuba travel restrictions.
Not everybody thought Flake's joke was funny. Sen. Bob Menendez, the Democrat
from New Jersey who stands to take over as Chairman of the Foreign Relations
Committee if Kerry leaves, came closed the hearing with some harsh words for
"I had no intention of raising it, but, you know, to suggest that spring break
is a form of - a form of torture to the Castro regime - unfortunately, they are
experts about torture, as is evidenced by the increasing brutal crackdown on
peaceful democracy advocates on the island just in the last year, over 6,600
peaceful democracy advocates detained or arrested.
"Just this past Sunday, the Ladies in White, a group of women who dress in white
and march every Sunday with a gladiolus to church, tried to come together to go
to church this past Sunday. And the result of that - these are individuals who
are the relatives of former or current political prisoners in Castro's jails -
the result is that more than 35 of the Women in White were intercepted, beaten
with belts, threatened to death by agents aiming guns at them and temporarily
"And then we have a United States citizen who all he tried to do is give access
to the Internet to a small Jewish population in Havana and has been languishing
in jail for nearly four years. That's real torture."
Not mentioning Cuba? Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Repubican whose parents
immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1956 just before Castro returned to
the country. Rubio focused his questioning of Kerry on North Korea, Syria, the
Middle East and China.
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