January 12, 2017

'Have you no shame, President Obama?' Florida politicians react to wet foot, dry foot repeal


President Barack Obama undid 20 years of U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba on Thursday, repealing the "wet foot, dry foot" position that allowed Cubans who reached U.S. soil to remain in the country without fear of deportation.

Reaction from Florida politicians, including Cuban-American hardline members of Congress, was swift.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida:

The ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy was put in place many years ago to help those who were fleeing Castro’s repressive regime. I believe changing this outdated policy in order to be fair to all and also to prevent people from abusing the system is the right thing to do.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida:

While I have acknowledged the need to reform the Cuban Adjustment Act for some time now, the Obama Administration’s characterization of this change as part of the ongoing normalization with the Castro regime is absurd. It is in fact President Obama's failed Cuba policy, combined with the Castro regime’s increased repression, that has led to a rise in Cuban migration since 2014.


The Cuban Adjustment Act has provided countless Cubans the opportunity to escape the Castro tyranny. However, in recent years it has also led to growing abuses. While some changes were needed, we must work to ensure that Cubans who arrive here to escape political persecution are not summarily returned to the regime, and they are given a fair opportunity to apply for and receive political asylum.


Furthermore, I am concerned by the decision to terminate the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. For decades, the Castro regime has forced thousands of doctors to go abroad as a tool of its foreign policy. This is political repression, and I am optimistic that the incoming Trump Administration will reverse this part of the executive order and allow these doctors to seek asylum at U.S. embassies or consulates in other countries.


I had the opportunity to discuss this issue with Vice President-elect Pence this evening, and I am heartened by the fact that in a week we will have a new administration committed to discarding the failed Cuba policy of the last two years.”

 U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami:

President Obama's policy legitimizing the Castro dictatorship created a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty in Cuba and resulted in a mass exodus from the island. Since the President announced his deal with Castro at the end of 2014, almost 100,000 Cubans have reached our shores. Many others fled the island but never arrived, instead dying at sea or in the jungles of Central America.

For two years, I have demanded a solution to this crisis from the Administration. Instead, the Administration chose to wait until the last hour to act, and as usual collaborated directly with the Cuban dictatorship instead of consulting members of Congress. America’s policy toward Cuba should serve to advance U.S. interests, and it should never be coordinated with anti-American dictators.

Although our country's immigration policy toward Cuba has granted many of the dictatorship's victims refuge, it has also been grossly abused and exploited by many Cuban nationals, while also inadvertently bolstering the Cuban regime. A change to this policy was inevitable. I remain firmly committed to supporting the victims of persecution in Cuba while ending all abuses of America’s generosity.

With regards to the cancellation of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which offered refuge to Cuban doctors who are in effect slaves of the regime assigned to countries around world, it is regrettable and a clear example of the Cuban regimes influence over the Obama Administration. I hope the incoming Administration will consider reinstating this program.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami (in a statement titled, "Have You No Shame, President Obama?"):

With just eight days left in his administration, President Obama has found one more way to frustrate the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people and provide yet another shameful concession to the Castro regime.  Under President Obama's misguided view, after having removed the Castro regime from the state sponsor of terror list and granting diplomatic recognition, the next logical step is denying oppressed Cubans the presumption of political asylum. 

Since 1966, the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act has provided a lifeline to generations of Cubans fleeing oppression.  Many made the treacherous journey to begin their lives anew in freedom, and others perished trying to escape.  In addition, the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program provided a way for doctors forced to work under inhumane conditions for paltry salaries in foreign lands to escape their servitude.

President Obama's policy toward the Castro regime has not improved human rights or increased liberty on the island.  To the contrary, documented political arrests reached close to 10,000 in 2016 as renowned activists such as Berta Soler, Danilo Maldonado Machado "El Sexto," and labor activists including Ivan Carrillo Hernandez suffered brutal arrests just in the past few weeks.  El Sexto remains in prison today and his American lawyer, Kim Motley, was harassed and interrogated while in Cuba simply for representing him.  Cubans are leaving the island in record numbers, and many of the 53 who were released as part of the Obama-Castro deal were subsequently rearrested.

President Obama's numerous concessions and extension of diplomatic recognition to the murderous Castro regime does not constitute an achievement.  To the contrary, his policy has been a succession of betrayals of America's longstanding commitment to human rights and freedom, and a betrayal of the Cuban people who have suffered under oppression for far too long.  This last act of diminishing lifelines to Cubans languishing in totalitarianism is one final despicable betrayal of a people who deserve better from an American president.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami:

Castro uses refugees as pawns to get more concessions from Washington so there is no reason to do away with the Cuban medical doctor program, which is a foolhardy concession to a regime that sends its doctors to foreign nations in a modern-day indentured servitude. The repeal of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program was done because that's what the Cuban dictatorship wanted and the White House caved to what Castro wants, instead of standing up for U.S. democratic values and seeking the return of fugitives from U.S. justice like Joanne Chesimard or seeking compensation for U.S. citizens for their confiscated properties. In another bad deal by the Obama administration, it has traded wet foot/dry foot for the elimination of an important program which was undermining the Castro regime by providing an outlet for Cuban doctors to seek freedom from forced labor which only benefits an oppressive regime.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa:

The end of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy should be followed by congressional action to lift the outdated economic embargo and improve economic conditions for everyday Cubans.  This is an important step in normalizing our relationship and America must do everything to lift small business entrepreneurs and create opportunities on both sides of the Florida Straits.  We must continue to leave the Cold War policies behind and build new bridges for jobs and economic opportunities for both nations.

I have witnessed how the “wet foot, dry foot” policy created an uneven playing field for immigrants from other Caribbean nations who are also seeking the opportunity to pursue the American dream.    I have also seen Cubans who try to come here for short term visits to see family members negatively affected by “wet foot/dry foot.”  The change in policy today will help ensure that we can have safer and more orderly migration with all of our Caribbean neighbors.

--with Alex Leary

Photo credit: Associated Press

Obama repeals wet foot, dry foot immigration policy for Cubans

via @HeraldMimi

The Obama administration said Thursday it is ending the controversial “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy — essentially turning the clock on decades of preferential treatment for Cuban refugees — and making those who arrive without visas subject to deportation.

The so-called “wet-foot” part of the policy was implemented following the 1994 rafter crisis that brought some 35,000 Cubans to U.S. shores.

The change, which took effect immediately, brought to a halt the practice that gave Cubans who arrive at U.S. borders without visas automatic entry to the United States — even if they had been smuggled in by human traffickers.

“Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea.”

After outlining the policy, the White House held a call with Cuban Americans who support of the administration. They were told President-elect Donald Trump's transition team was briefed, one person on the call told the Miami Herald.

Immigration analysts say a change in U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba had to be immediate to prevent a wave of Cubans trying to reach U.S. shores by raft or boat or by crossing at the U.S. border with Mexico to beat a deadline.

More here.

Obama names Broward supporter to Holocaust council


via @adamsmithtimes

President Barack Obama today named Coral Springs trial lawyer Andrew Weinstein, a top Democratic fundraiser, a member of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, a position he will continue to hold after Donald Trump becomes president on Jan. 20. The president in 2013 appointed Weinstein to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

January 06, 2017

Tenured Miami Dade College professor tweets about impeaching Obama, 'the Kenyan'

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via @KyraGurney

Ed Calle may not be a household name, but he is well-known in the music industry as a gifted saxophonist who has played alongside everyone from Celia Cruz and Gloria Estefan to pop stars Rihanna and Shakira. The Latin Grammy winner and five-time Grammy nominee is also a professor at Miami Dade College, where he teaches music business and production.

But on Sunday, a tweet from Calle struck a sour note, unleashing a Twitter storm and calls for MDC to fire the tenured professor.

In response to a tweet from a political activist about impeaching President-elect Donald Trump, Calle tweeted: “Yeah, right. Let’s work on impeaching the Kenyan first.”

Dozens of people expressed outrage at Calle’s suggestion that President Barack Obama was not from the United States, tweeting to Calle and MDC that he should be sacked. The thoroughly debunked allegation has been espoused by so-called “birthers,” including Trump himself until he finally dropped it during the presidential campaign in September.

Calle subsequently deleted his Twitter account, but he posted a letter on his website under the heading “Response to Twitter Mob” in which he defended his right to free speech and argued that Obama’s birth certificate was fake.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

Big Miami names spotted en route to DC -- headed to Obamas' White House farewell bash?



When at least four big Miami political donors to President Barack Obama show up to the same flight from Miami to Washington D.C., it's usually not a coincidence.

Friday morning, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and Tracy and Alonzo Mourning, boarded a plan to the nation's capital. Planned for Friday evening? A farewell party hosted by the president and first lady at the White House.

The White House usually remains tight-lipped about the first couple's private bashes, so a guest list confirming the two South Florida couples' attendance is unlikely to be forthcoming. The Washington Post reported earlier this week that "close friends and major donors" -- and celebrities -- are expected at the goodbye soiree.

Both the Mournings and Estefans have hosted fundraisers for the president and the Democratic Party throughout Obama's eight years in office. Alonzo Mourning, a former Miami Heat star, has golfed with Obama; in 2015, Obama honored the Estefans, both musicians, with the National Medal of Freedom.

The Obamas told People Magazine last month that they planned a final "grown-up party" before President-elect Donald Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration. The Florida Times-Union reported Thursday that Obama might visit Jacksonville for what appears to be a private function Saturday night, a day after the White House event.

Obama Vacation_2

Photo credit: Top photo, Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS; bottom photo, Steven Senne, Associated Press

January 04, 2017

Flanked by Miami congressman, Obama brings healthcare fight to Capitol

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson was at President Obama's side Wednesday morning as he arrived on Capitol Hill to strategize with Democrats how to protect the Affordable Care Act.

More Floridians have enrolled in Obamacare than any other state and South Florida is a big driver of that.

But that hasn't stopped criticism of the cost and Donald Trump won the state in November, vowing to "repeal and replace" the law. Gov. Rick Scott has said he wants to play a role in the dismantling, serving as a bridge between Washington and the states.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence was also on the Hill Wednesday to talk with Republicans, who Democrats are counting on struggling to produce an alternative health care delivery system.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

December 18, 2016

Approaching Trump presidency mutes White House celebration of Obama Cuba policy

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@PatriciaMazzei @ngameztorres

It could have been a celebration of one of President Barack Obama’s most significant foreign-policy legacies. Instead, on Thursday, almost two years to the day when Obama single-handedly overturned U.S. policy toward Cuba, the White House assembled Cuban Americans, Cuban government officials and business partners in Washington to offer the best reassurances they could come up with that their efforts had not been in vain.

President Obama himself has spoken to President-elect Donald Trump about the importance of holding the course on Cuba. And once out of office, Obama intends to remain involved in Cuba matters as a private citizen, several meeting attendees told the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

“He absolutely will,” said Ric Herrero, one of more than 20 Cuban Americans who met with Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

Obama did not attend the private meetings, held across the street from the White House at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on a bitterly cold Washington day, though he sent each person a letter encouraging them “to carry forward the work of strengthening our partnership in the years ahead.” Over an informal lunch, attendees noshed on medianoche sandwiches, lechón and empanadas.

The White House did not specifically respond to a request for comment on the president’s Cuba plans or conversation with Trump. It’s unclear when the two men discussed Cuba, though they recently spoke by phone the day after Cuba announced Fidel Castro’s death.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald

December 12, 2016

Obameter: A broken promise by Obama to close Gitmo

Guantanamo Detainees AP


President Barack Obama is running out of time to deliver on his promise to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay.

On Jan. 22, 2009, Obama issued an executive order calling for the closure of the prison facility at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba within one year. But Congress didn't agree with Obama's goal and banned the transfer of detainees to facilities within the United States.

Obama has, however, significantly reduced the number of detainees by 76 percent.

As of Dec. 10, 2016, the facility had 59 captives, including 21 approved for transfer or repatriation to their homelands, according to the Miami Herald, which has tracked prisoners and spending since the facility opened under President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Keep reading here about Obama's promise to close Gitmo and check out Obama's progress on more than 500 promises on PolitiFact's Obameter.

(Associated Press photo by Brennan Linsey of a detainee in 2008)

November 22, 2016

Eduardo Padron gets high honor from Obama

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President Barack Obama on Tuesday awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron and other luminaries from education, sports, entertainment, architecture and culture.

Obama hung the medals around each recipients neck in the ornate East Room of the White House with long gold-embroidered curtains, a giant chandelier and oil portraits of former first ladies.

Recounting Padron's childhood journey from Cuba, Obama said his career as an educator has helped countless young people follow in his footsteps of arriving an immigrant and realizing the American Dream.

"Eduardo made his choice to create more stories just like his," Obama said. "Dr. Padron has built a dream factory for one of nation's most diverse student bodies."

Among other recipients were singer Diana Ross, basketball legends Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, actors Robert Redford, Tom Hanks and Robert De Niro, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Jordan received the loudest applause, while Los Angeles Dodgers radio announcer Vin Scully got the most sustained ovation.

Joining Obama and the recipients for the ceremony were Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and other dignitaries.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, El Nuevo Herald



November 06, 2016

Obama's Orlando visit marks his 46th trip as president


via @learyreports

KISSIMMEE - President Obama is about to land in Florida, making his 46th visit to the state since he made history as the first African-American president.

Obama will appear at a rally here along with Stevie Wonder. It's a "two-fer" of sorts, designed to motivate black voters and also Florida's growing Hispanic vote.

Obama has visited Florida, and Ohio, more than just about every other state except New York, according to figures compiled by Mark Knoller of CBS News.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Associated Press