March 25, 2016

Florida is No. 3 in agricultural imports to Cuba

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe sees Cuba as a land of opportunity.

Amid President Barack Obama’s historic trip to Cuba this past week, McAuliffe said in an interview that Virginia already has made impressive headway in tapping the island nation’s export market.

"Virginia now is the number one exporter of ag (agricultural) products to Cuba," McAuliffe said during a March 21 MSNBC interview. "We have now jumped to number one."

In January, the governor returned from a trip to Cuba aimed at bolstering the commonwealth’s commercial ties with the nation. The U.S. still has a decades-long embargo on most trade with Cuba. But a 2000 law allows limited exports of agricultural products and medical equipment. In 2014, Obama re-established formal diplomatic relations with Cuba.

McAuliffe supports ending the trade embargo.

Brian Coy, the governor’s spokesman, pointed us to a Feb. 12 news release where McAuliffe announced that last year Virginia exported $41.6 million in agricultural goods to Cuba, all of it soybeans and soybean meal. In past years, Virginia also has shipped apples, poultry and beef. McAuliffe said the 2015 export tally was the most that any state had sent to Cuba that year.

We tracked down the same trade figures through an online database provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It shows that in 2015, Virginia’s $41.6 million indeed was the most of any state, followed by Georgia, which had $30.9 million in agricultural exports to Cuba; and Florida, which had $29.9 million in exports.

Keep reading the fact-check by Sean Gorman of PolitiFact Virginia here and here is our round-up of fact-checks about Cuba including Hillary Clinton's flip flop on the embargo.

March 23, 2016

Obama in Cuba - more popular than Castro?

CePFUZQWIAAu323

via @lesleyclark

HAVANA -- President Barack Obama’s decision to restore ties with Cuba may have given him a revered spot in the heart of many Cubans.

Crowds lined the roads here to catch a glimpse of the presidential motorcade: en route to a baseball game between U.S. and Cuban teams, thousands spilled into the streets and crowded onto balconies.

The American flag, once a sign of hostility, did fly beside the Cuban colors from the antennas of the vintage American automobiles that ferried visitors around the city. And an entrepreneur pitched a refrigerator magnet with Obama holding a cigar under his nose.

But they were still outnumbered by trinkets with images of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. And in a country accustomed to disappointment and ruled by the same family since 1959, there were few overt displays of support for the American president, even as he spent the better part of three days touring Havana’s sights, eating its food and urging its people to embrace democracy.

Cubans cheered his speech in the privacy of their homes - the government did not erect large screen monitors in public as with other events. “Who would have thought we’d see this,” said Jesus Magán as he watched at home. ““I mean, we were trained to fight against the Americans!”

More here.

Photo credit: @PatriciaMazzei in Havana

Cuban dissidents met with Obama to air grievances

President Barack Obama granted outspoken political dissidents of the Cuban government the highest level of recognition they’ve ever received in their own country, meeting privately with them Tuesday against the wishes of the Castro regime.

Obama sat down with 13 dissidents and political activists behind closed doors at the U.S. embassy for more than an hour and a half, several of the attendees said, even though the gathering had been scheduled to last only a half-hour. The president greeted each person around the conference table by name, taking notes as they aired grievances about Raúl Castro’s rule — and, in some cases, about Obama’s U.S.-Cuba policy

The White House insisted the meeting with the dissidents was never in question. But when Secretary of State John Kerry failed to travel to Cuba a couple of weeks ahead of the president, as had been expected, Castro opponents feared an attempt was under way by the Cuban government to dictate who could meet Obama.

After the regime detained more than 50 activists Sunday — including two invited to Obama’s meeting — dissidents also worried government authorities might keep them from showing up Tuesday.

Full story here.

March 22, 2016

U.S. beat Cuba as Obama and Castro watched

Cuba baseball(3)

President Barack Obama capped an historic visit to Cuba on Tuesday by indulging in sports diplomacy —catching a few innings of a baseball game in a raucous stadium, Cuba’s president at his side.

Perched behind home plate, the American president who has sought to open Cuba to the United States, chatted with Raul Castro as they cheered several innings of the first exhibition game between a U.S. and a Cuban team since 1999.

“We share a national pastime — la pelota,” Obama said hours earlier in a speech to Cuban people and broadcast across the island. He called the sport one of many “common passions” that Americans and Cubans shared, even as their governments became adversaries.

And he noted that U.S. and Cuban players would later compete on the same Havana baseball field where baseball legend Jackie Robinson — who broke baseball’s racial barrier — played before he made his Major League debut.

 

Read more from Lesley Clark here.

Raúl Castro's false claim about lack of political prisoners in Cuba

Cuba President Raúl Castro criticized the United States’ human rights record — and defended his own — in a joint press conference with President Barack Obama in Havana.

At the first official meeting between leaders of the two countries in 50 years, Castro dinged the United States on the lack of universal access to health care, free education and equal pay before he fended off a CNN reporter’s question about political prisoners on the island.

"President Castro, my father is Cuban. He left for the United States when he was young. Do you see a new and democratic direction for your country? And why (do) you have Cuban political prisoners? And why don’t you release them?" asked CNN’s Jim Acosta. (He then asked if Castro prefers Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.)

"Give me a list of the political prisoners and I will release them immediately," Castrosaid, according to the White House translation of his remarks. "Just mention a list. What political prisoners? Give me a name or names. After this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners. And if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends."

A Miami Herald translation put his response in slightly different words, though Castro’s message is not in dispute: "Give me the list now of political prisoners to release. If there are political prisoners, they’ll be free before nightfall."

PolitiFact Global News Service thought we’d oblige -- keep reading here to see what fact-checker Linda Qiu found.

March 19, 2016

Marco Rubio calls Obama Cuba trip 'disgraceful'

via @learyreports

Marco Rubio offers an extended criticism of President Obama's trip to Cuba, which begins Sunday.

“On Sunday, President Obama will touch down in Cuba for what promises to be one of the most disgraceful trips ever taken by a U.S. president anywhere in the world. This is an Obama presidential trip whose ultimate results will be giving away legitimacy and money to an anti-American regime that actively undermines our national security interests and acts against our values every single day. President Obama’s entourage will sleep in hotels controlled by the Cuban military that were confiscated by the regime and are among the $7 billion in unpaid legal claims owed to American property owners. When President Obama arrives in Havana on Sunday, he will visit Catholic Church sights and church officials, yet he’s inexplicably expected to skip St. Rita Church, where the Ladies In White have shed much blood and received routine beatings at the hands of the Castro regime for simply demanding their loved ones’ freedom.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio calls Obama Cuba trip 'disgraceful'" »

March 18, 2016

South Florida Republicans break with GOP in deportation vote

@jamesmartinrose

Only five Republican lawmakers stood up to their party leader in voting against allowing House Speaker Paul Ryan to file an amicus brief opposing President Barack Obama's decision to withhold deportation for more than 5 million undocumented immigrants.

All three Cuban-American representatives from South Florida -- Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo -- were among the five Republicans who voted against a resolution that the House passed Thursday almost entirely along party lines.

The Supreme Court next month will hear a case brought by Texas, joined by Florida and 24 other states, arguing that Obama's bid to shield about 5.2 million illegal aliens from deportation imposes unaffordable health-care, education, law-enforcement and other costs on them.

Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who replaced Ohioan John Boehner as speaker in October, acknowledged that House intervention in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court was unprecedented, but he insisted it was necessary to prevent executive overreach by Obama.

With no Democrats voting for the bill, Ryan and other Republicans said Obama's executive orders dating to 2012 amount to the president legislating immigration reform without going through Congress.

"I recognize that this is a very extraordinary step," Ryan said on the House floor. "I feel it is very necessary, though. In fact, I believe this is vital."

In a joint statement Friday, Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart said that although individual members of Congress have the right to file briefs supporting court cases, the House as a whole should not do so.

"All amicus briefs should carry the same weight, and beginning this pattern may signal to the Supreme Court that Congress is prioritizing certain cases over others," the two Miami Republicans said.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a first-term Republican from Kendall, went further. He accused Republicans of playing politics with the important issue of immigration.

"For two long, both parties have preferred to score petty political points using the immigration issue rather than passing meaningful reform to secure the border, reform our visa system and find a fair solution for the undocumented," Curbelo said.

"The surest and most constitutionally solvent way to end the president's executive overreach is to pass meaningful immigration reform, not by employing empty tactics that ignore the root cause of the problem," he said.

The two other Republicans who voted against the House resolution were Reps. Richard Hanna of New York and Robert Dold of Illinois. Rep. Alex Mooney, a West Virginia Republican and one of five other Cuban-Americans in Congress, voted for the measure, which passed by a 234-186 margin.

Among Florida's 24 other U.S. House members, 22 voted along party lines, with Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel and Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan failing to vote.

Nine other Florida Democrats voted against the measure, among them Reps. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

Two lower courts have ruled in favor of the states, most recently the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans.

With only eight justices on the Supreme Court since Justice Antonin Scalia's death last month, a 4-4 decision after the scheduled April 18 arguments would uphold the lower courts' rulings and overturn Obama's executive orders protecting millions of undocumented parents and their children from deportation.

Obama on Wednesday chose Merrick Garland, a former federal prosecutor and current judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to replace Scalia on the high court, but Senate Republican leaders are refusing to take a vote or even hold hearings on the nomination, saying Obama has only 10 months left in office.

Immigration has become perhaps the most divisive issue in the presidential campaign, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump vowing to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat of Puerto Rican descent, ridiculed Republican lawmakers, many of whom he said have disingenuously tried to distance themselves from Trump's hardline stance on immigration.

"They keep saying, 'Well, Trump doesn't represent us, he doesn't (represent) our views, he doesn't represent our values,' and now they want to know where Trump gets all of his anti-immigrant, xenophobic views from," Gutierrez told reporters. "Try the House of Republicans."

In a speech Friday on the House floor, Gutierrez accused his Republican colleagues of "stoking anti-immigrant fears and mass-deportation fantasies."

"The vote is a political stunt disguised as a legal brief because the Republican majority sees a crass political opportunity to stand with the anti-immigration wing of their party," he said.  

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and 60 individual business leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, filed an amicus brief supporting Obama last week.

Before the vote Thursday, Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez, head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said "the Latino community is being used for political purposes."

Sanchez added: "We are being demonized, we are being marginalized, and we see a frightening level of hateful rhetoric and vile hate speech aimed at our community, and nobody is standing up within the Republican Party to say that this is unacceptable."

America's Voice, a pro-immigration advocacy group, said the vote Thursday was the eighth "anti-immigration" vote taken by Republicans in the current session of Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 223 other Democrats filed an amicus brief backing Obama earlier this month, but there was no vote on the brief and it represents them as individuals.

In still another amicus brief, almost 120 cities and counties across the United States on March 8 expressed support for Obama, among them Pembroke Pines, Tampa and Sunrise.

 

March 16, 2016

Florida politicians comment on Obama's SCOTUS nominee

@PatriciaMazzei

President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Senate Republicans said even before there was a nominee that they wouldn't hold any hearings.

Here's what Florida politicians had to say about Garland's nomination:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat:

The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court and I take that responsibility very seriously. Today, the president nominated Judge Merrick Garland to serve on our nation’s highest court and I hope that the Senate is given a chance to fully consider this nominee.

Continue reading "Florida politicians comment on Obama's SCOTUS nominee" »

March 04, 2016

Ahead of Cuba trip, White House sends Obama adviser to meet with Cuban Americans in Miami

@PatriciaMazzei

Ahead of President Barack Obama's trip to Cuba, a top White House lieutenant will travel to Miami to meet with leaders of the Cuban-American community, the Miami Herald has learned.

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes will meet with human rights and civil society advocates, faith leaders and business people on March 11. Rhodes helped broker the deal that normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Cuban exiles were left out of the White House's talks, and were shocked to learn the news in December 2014. That has left a lot of hurt feelings from hardliners and longtime Cuban democracy advocates. Rhodes' visit may be the first chance to start addressing those concerns before the president's historic trip March 21.

Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Cuba was canceled Thursday after the U.S. and Cuba disagreed over aspects of Kerry's itinerary, including his ability to meet with dissidents. Kerry will travel with Obama, and the White House said Friday the president will choose whom he wants to meet on the island.

March 03, 2016

Obama-Biden endorsement in U.S. Senate race fractures Florida Democrats

@ByKristenMClark

A division of the Florida Democratic Party is upset that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have chimed in on the contentious party primary in the state's U.S. Senate race.

Obama and Biden on Wednesday endorsed U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, over fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, further fortifying Murphy's status as the establishment pick.

But progressive Democrats have passionately backed Grayson and the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida -- an official subsection of the state party -- doesn't think it's appropriate for the national party's figureheads to take sides.

"As someone who worked hard to help President Obama win Florida in 2008 and 2012, I am profoundly saddened and disappointed by his apparent lack of trust in Florida Democrats to choose our own U.S. Senate nominee," caucus president Susan Smith said in a statement this morning.

Smith pointed to Grayson's favorable polling. She also criticized Murphy's congressional record and the fact that he was previously a Republican before running for office.

"As much as it breaks my heart to see President Obama attempt to put his thumb on the scale for Patrick Murphy, it's even more worrisome that the president seems to have done so with bad information," Smith said. "I hope the President will read up on Murphy's real record and reconsider his decision to throw the weight of the White House behind someone who will do Wall Street's bidding."

The Florida Democratic Party doesn't endorse in primaries before the qualifying deadline and has no plans to endorse a candidate. 

Executive director Scott Arceneaux told the Herald/Times that the state party is "deeply disappointed in the Progressive Caucus’ statement."

"To use this statement to imply the President and Vice President of the United States are misinformed or unable to thoughtfully arrive at conclusions that differ from the Progressive Caucus’ view is as disturbing as their decision to attack a Democratic member of Florida’s congressional delegation," Arceneaux said in a statement.

He added, “We are a big tent party with diverse views and should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. The Florida Democratic Party welcomes the input of President Obama and Vice President Biden in our races.”

Also Wednesday, Obama and Biden endorsed former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in that state's party primary for the U.S. Senate. Murphy and Strickland were the first Senate candidates Obama and Biden have endorsed this cycle.