February 27, 2016

Remembering the last time a U.S. president visited Cuba

Coolidge and Machado in Cuba

via @glenngarvin

No matter what Barack Obama does in Havana next month, his visit just isn’t going to measure up to the one Calvin Coolidge made in 1928. Yeah, that Coolidge, the guy remembered as Silent Cal when he’s remembered at all, the one a reporter once wrote had the perpetual expression of “one who had been weaned on a pickle.”

His visit to Cuba — the last one by an American president — was nonetheless a festival of drunken debauchery, inebriated idiocy, salacious smuggling and even unnatural acts with Key lime pies. The full story didn’t emerge for 30 years, when a reporter finally spilled the beans on a tale with “elements of pageantry, drama, comedy and farce; of ponderous dignity and unseemly revelry; of silk-hatted diplomacy with a dash of dipsomania.”

Lest President Obama get the wrong idea of what’s expected of U.S. leaders when visiting Cuba, we should probably note at this point that President Coolidge himself did not partake (well, there was an incident with hookers that we’ll get back to, but mostly) of the depravity.

Though some Cubans thought they saw the president himself slinking through Havana’s back-alley dives, incongruously wearing a top hat, they were mistaken, victims of a practical-joke impression of Coolidge by an American reporter who resembled the president. And you thought the mainstream media was rough on presidents these days.

But we’re getting ahead of the story. Until Obama announced a couple of weeks ago that he was going to Cuba, practically nobody remembered Coolidge’s 1928 trip. Yet at the time, it was a big, big deal, and even had parallels to today. Coolidge, too, was a lame-duck president looking to cap his stay in the White House with a signature foreign-policy achievement.

More here.

February 24, 2016

PolitiFact: Obama's promise to close Guantanamo Bay remains stalled

With less than a year to go on his presidency, President Barack Obama released a last-ditch plan to close the the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, a proposal that would include moving some detainees to prison facilities within the United States.

But in an election year, it appears highly unlikely that a Republican-led Congress will do anything to help bring Obama's 2008 campaign promise to to fruition. Several Republicans immediately vowed to block the plan, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. One Republican senator, Pat Roberts of Kansas, tweeted a video of himself crumpling up the proposal and tossing it in a trash can.

The plan, released Feb. 23, 2016, explains how to proceed with the remaining 91 detainees, a number that includes 35 who are eligible for transfer and 10 in some phase of the military commission process. Since the creation of the detainee facility, nearly 800 detainees have been held at Guantanamo.

In addition to continuing the transfers, the plan includes accelerating the review of certain detainees who have not been charged or convicted.

Keep reading from PolitiFact's Obameter.

February 23, 2016

Florida GOP candidates for U.S. Senate deride Obama plan to close Gitmo

via @learyreports

Republican U.S. Senate candidates rushed to condemn President Obama's moves on Guantanamo Bay while Democrat Patrick Murphy said he supports the closure, illustrating the partisan divide on an issue is likely to surface in the general election.

"For far too long the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has been a stain on our American values that undermines our security around the world," Murphy said. "As a Member of the House Intelligence Committee, I will continue to support closing Guantanamo in a responsible way that protects the safety and security of the American people."

Republicans were uniformly opposed.

Continue reading "Florida GOP candidates for U.S. Senate deride Obama plan to close Gitmo" »

February 20, 2016

President Obama devotes weekly address to Cuba visit

@PatriciaMazzei

"Nos vemos en La Habana," President Barack Obama said Saturday in his weekly address, which he devoted to his upcoming visit to Cuba. See you in Havana.

Read his remarks in full:

Hi, everybody.  This week, we made it official—I’m going to Cuba.

When Michelle and I go to Havana next month, it will be the first visit of a U.S. president to Cuba in nearly 90 years.  And it builds on the decision I made more than a year ago to begin a new chapter in our relationship with the people of Cuba.

You see, I believe that the best way to advance American interests and values, and the best way to help the Cuban people improve their lives, is through engagement—by normalizing relations between our governments and increasing the contacts between our peoples.  I’ve always said that change won’t come to Cuba overnight.  But as Cuba opens up, it will mean more opportunity and resources for ordinary Cubans.  And we’re starting to see some progress.

Today, the American flag flies over our embassy in Havana, and our diplomats are interacting more broadly with the Cuban people.  More Americans are visiting Cuba than at any time in the last 50 years—Cuban-American families; American students, teachers, humanitarian volunteers, faith communities—all forging new ties and friendships that are bringing our countries closer.  And when direct flights and ferries resume, even more of our citizens will have the chance to travel and work together and know each other.

American companies are starting to do business in Cuba, helping to nurture private enterprise and giving Cuban entrepreneurs new opportunities.  With new Wi-Fi hotspots, more Cubans are starting to go online and get information from the outside world.  In both our countries, there’s overwhelming support for this new relationship.  And in Cuba today, for the first time in a half century, there is hope for a different future, especially among Cuba’s young people who have such extraordinary talent and potential just waiting to be unleashed.

My visit will be an opportunity to keep moving forward.  I’ll meet with President Castro to discuss how we can continue normalizing relations, including making it easier to trade and easier for Cubans to access the Internet and start their own businesses.  As I did when I met President Castro last year, I’ll speak candidly about our serious differences with the Cuban government, including on democracy and human rights.  I’ll reaffirm that the United States will continue to stand up for universal values like freedom of speech and assembly and religion.

I’ll meet with members of Cuba’s civil society—courageous men and women who give voice to the aspirations of the Cuban people.  I’ll meet with Cuban entrepreneurs to learn how we can help them start new ventures.  And I’ll speak directly to the Cuban people about the values we share and how I believe we can be partners as they work for the future they want.

We’re still in the early days of our new relationship with the Cuban people.  This transformation will take time.  But I’m focused on the future, and I’m confident that my visit will advance the goals that guide us—promoting American interests and values and a better future for the Cuban people, a future of more freedom and more opportunity.

Thanks everybody.  And to the people of Cuba—nos vemos en La Habana.

February 18, 2016

Poll of Miami congressional district shows narrow support for President Obama's Cuba policy

@PatriciaMazzei

In December, on the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's diplomatic opening toward Cuba, a Miami Democratic consultant commissioned a local poll to, among other things, gauge the policy's popularity.

The survey, of a newly redrawn Miami congressional district represented by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, showed narrow support -- 47-43 percent -- for a hypothetical congressional candidate who favored normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations and lifting the trade embargo, according to results shared with the Miami Herald by consultant Christian Ulvert.

Democrats were far more likely to back the policy change (68 percent) than Republicans (30 percent) and voters without party affiliation (44 percent). That nearly a third of Republicans would be OK with ending the embargo is particularly noteworthy in South Florida, the heart of the hard-line Cuban exile community, where reactions were divided Thursday to the White House's announcement that Obama plans to travel to the island next month.

The poll was conducted by SEA Polling & Strategic Design between Dec.17-21. It surveyed 400 likely voters, with a slightly Republican-leaning sample, and has an error margin of 4.9 percent.

"The poll I commissioned in late December shows how voters in CD-27 continue to embrace the leadership President Obama has shown to bring meaningful and democratic change to the Cuban people through normalizing relations with the island," Ulvert said in a statement. "CD-27 voters appreciate that the failed policies over the last 50 years have not resulted in a free and democratic Cuba, so voters see great opportunity in President Obama being a voice for a new democracy in Cuba and through deep coordination with Cuban-American civic and elected leaders in South Florida, we can achieve that dream for Cuba."

The same poll showed that Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American who stridently opposes any rapprochement with the Castro regime, remains highly popular in her district, even now that it's filled with more Democrats. Her favorability rating was 61-27 percent, with 6 percent of respondents holding a mixed view of the congresswoman and 6 percent saying they didn't know. So even if a majority of voters disagree with her on Cuba, it appears very unlikely that the longtime incumbent would draw any serious opposition.

 

Marco Rubio wants President Obama to 'reconsider' Cuba trip

@PatriciaMazzei

Marco Rubio's Senate office sent President Barack Obama a letter Thursday urging him to "reconsider" his trip to Cuba next month.

The Florida Republican argued Obama's visit "will send the message to the oppressed Cuban people that you stand with their oppressors."

Here's the text of Rubio's letter:

Continue reading "Marco Rubio wants President Obama to 'reconsider' Cuba trip" »

February 17, 2016

Miami politicians react to Obama's planned visit to Cuba

@PatriciaMazzei

News of President Barack Obama's impending trip to Cuba -- in March, sources told the Miami Herald -- prompted quick backlash from Miami politicians, many of them of Cuban descent.

Here's reaction, which we will update as it comes in:

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is running for president

 

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who is running for president

 

Continue reading "Miami politicians react to Obama's planned visit to Cuba" »

Sources: Obama plans to visit Cuba next month

via @HeraldMimi

As part of his opening to Cuba, President Barack Obama is expected to visit the island in March, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to travel there in almost 90 years, sources said Wednesday.

The president is expected to arrive March 21, sources said. That timetable would put him in Cuba during a week when Havana is awash in special events. On the 20th, the Rolling Stones are expected to conclude their Latin America tour with a concert in Cuba and on March 22, Cuba’s national baseball team will play the Tampa Bay Rays in Havana. It’s unclear whether the president will attend the baseball game.

ABC News reported Wednesday that the National Security Council will make the official announcement at a White House briefing Thursday. The network also reported that Obama will stop in Cuba on his way to Argentina.

Obama’s critics were quick to condemn the visit.

“If true, it is absolutely shameful that Obama is rewarding the Castros with a visit to Cuba by a sitting American president since their reign of terror began,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami. “A visit by President Obama more than one year after his unilateral concessions to the regime will only legitimize the Castros’ repressive behavior.”

More here.

January 13, 2016

Fact-checking Obama's 2016 State of the Union

President Barack Obama went after his doubters in his final State of the Union address, dismissing their warnings about the country’s economy and military preparedness under his watch as "political hot air."

"Let me tell you something: The United States of America is the most powerful nation on earth. Period. It's not even close. It's not even close," Obama said.

Yet even as he defended his seven years as commander in chief, Obama acknowledged he didn’t deliver on his campaign promise to bring a more civil tone to a sharply divided Capitol Hill.

"It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency  —  that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better," Obama said. "There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office."

PolitiFact is fact-checking several statements from Obama’s speech, as well as the Republican response from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Keep reading here.

January 12, 2016

In GOP State of the Union responses, different messages in English and Spanish on immigration

@PatriciaMazzei

The Republican Party's immigration split was reflected Tuesday in the two responses hand-picked party members gave -- one in English, one in Spanish -- to President Obama's final State of the Union address. The Spanish version, offered by a Cuban-American congressman from Miami, was decidedly softer.

Here's what South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said in English:

No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.

At the same time, that does not mean we just flat out open our borders. We can’t do that. We cannot continue to allow immigrants to come here illegally. And in this age of terrorism, we must not let in refugees whose intentions cannot be determined.

We must fix our broken immigration system. That means stopping illegal immigration. And it means welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion. Just like we have for centuries.

I have no doubt that if we act with proper focus, we can protect our borders, our sovereignty and our citizens, all while remaining true to America’s noblest legacies.

Here's what Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said in Spanish (translation is ours):

No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love the United States should ever feel unwelcome in this country. It's not who we are.

At the same time, it's obvious that our immigration system needs to be reformed. The current system puts our national security at risk and is an obstacle for our economy.

It's essential that we find a legislative solution to protect our nation, defend our borders, offer a permanent and human solution to those who live in the shadows, respect the rule of law, modernize the visa system and push the economy forward.

I have no doubt that if we work together, we can achieve this and continue to be faithful to the noblest legacies of the United States.

There were other differences in the speeches as well. Haley and Diaz-Balart each briefly mentioned their personal backgrounds, which are obviously not the same. Haley spoke about the Charleston shooting and removal of the Confederate flag (which she referred to only as a "symbol that was being used to divide us") while Diaz-Balart spoke more generally about "tragedies" in South Carolina and California. Diaz-Balart didn't make veiled references to presidential front-runner Donald Trump, while Haley warned against the "noise" in politics.

And Diaz-Balart mentioned Cuba and Venezuela:

Unfortunately, there are still countries where basic liberties are not respected and were governments don't represent their people. Mullahs in Iran, devoted to radical Islam and with nuclear ambitions, prohibit dissidence and jail independent journalists as 'spies.' In North Korea, the people remain isolated from the rest of the world without Internet access or mass media. And here, in our own hemisphere, the Cuban people have not had a free election in more than 57 years, and political detentions and oppression keep increasing. And the Venezuelan people suffers the existence of political prisoners and corruption in the most important democratic institutions.