TRENTON (AP) — High-ranking Cuban-American lawmakers in New Jersey are speaking out against U.S. plans to normalize full diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Sen. Robert Menendez (AP Photo / July Cortez)

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D) called the release of an American aid worker, which preceded President Barack Obama's announcement, "a moment of profound relief" for the man's family.

But Menendez, whose parents came to New York from Cuba just before he was born, assailed the deal, saying "President Obama's actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government."

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D),  a Cuban native who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 11, said Wednesday he fears normalizing relations will strengthen the Cuban regime and "cement its permanency."

Prieto says he knows "firsthand" the Cuban regime's poor record on human rights and its resistance to democracy.

Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and an easing in economic and travel restrictions on Cuba, but the longstanding economic embargo would have to be overturned by Congress.

Former Cubans now living in New Jersey also voiced displeasure with the president's plans. Among them was Roberto Martinez Gonzalez, a 73-year-old Union City resident who was among the thousands who fled Cuba during the Mariel boatlift in 1980

"I want Cuba to be free," Gonzalez said Wednesday. "All of my family is in the U.S. except for one of my half-sisters, so there's nothing for me to do there. The only thing I want is for those two (former leader Fidel Castro and current President Raul Castro) to go away."

The re-establishment of diplomatic ties was accompanied by Cuba's release of American Alan Gross and the swap of a U.S. spy held in Cuba for three Cubans jailed in Florida.

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