WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), whose parents immigrated from Cuba and who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a blistering critique Tuesday of the Obama administration’s decision to release Cuban spies as the Castro regime freed American Alan Gross from imprisonment.
"President Obama's actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government," Menendez said in a news release. "There is no equivalence between an international aid worker and convicted spies who were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage against our nation."
Menendez added, "Trading Mr. Gross for three convicted criminals sets an extremely dangerous precedent. It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips."
Gross was an American contractor who was serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba. He was trying to bring internet service to the country.
Administration officials have said the simultaneous releases were not part of a "swap" but part of a larger agreement. Menendez was not convinced.
"Let's be clear, this was not a "humanitarian" act by the Castro regime. It was a swap of convicted spies for an innocent American," Menendez said in his statement.
Menendez, a hard-liner on Cuba policy, will give up the gavel on the foreign relations committee in January. He has butted heads with Obama over several foreign policy flare-ups.
He did call Gross' return "a moment of profound relief for Alan Gross and his family."
"He should have been released immediately and unconditionally five years ago," Menendez said. "He committed no crime and was simply working to provide internet access to Cuba's small Jewish community. His imprisonment was cruel and arbitrary, but consistent with the behavior of the Cuban regime."