February 07, 2016

How Cuban exiles ended up with 2 of their own as Republican presidential contenders

Primary Pixels Photo Gallery(2) (1)

@PatriciaMazzei

NASHUA, N.H. -- For 50 years Cuban exiles have dreamed of the day they would elect one of their own to be president of Cuba.

This year they might actually see one elected — to be president of the United States.

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both sons of Cuban immigrants, head into Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary as two of the Republican Party’s top contenders for the 2016 nomination. That one of them could win marks an exceptional feat for a community only two generations removed from political exile.

“This race could come down to the two of them,” said former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican backing Jeb Bush for president who was the first Cuban-American in the U.S. Senate. “It’s really remarkable.”

Last week, Cruz became the first Hispanic in history to win the Iowa caucuses. Together, he and Rubio took more than half the vote —nearly 51 percent — in a state not known for its ethnic diversity.

Yet there were few headlines proclaiming Cruz’s win and Rubio’s third-place finish as a victory for Latinos.

“Where is the media on this, right?” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Tuesday on Fox News. “I mean, this is a big deal.”

It is. But Cruz and Rubio themselves didn’t play it up. They don’t campaign as trailblazing Hispanics.

More here.

Photo credit: Chris Carlson, Associated Press

January 28, 2016

Jeb Bush donor Mike Fernandez backs PAC promoting Cuba ties

via @learyreports

Billionaire Mike Fernandez -- one of Jeb Bush's biggest financial backers -- has maxed out to a political action committee organized to support federal candidates who favor ending the Cuban embargo.

His contribution helped New Cuba PAC raise nearly $350,000 in seven months - an amount the group said is its "biggest fundraising milestone yet."

Contributors who gave the maximum $5,000 include Fernandez, Carlos Gutierrez, Pat Riley (Miami Heat), Manny Medina, Joe Arriola and Paul Cejas.

“Today’s announcement is further proof that Americans from across the political and economic spectrum are continuing to unite in their support for normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations. As we enter 2016, we will do all that we can to support candidates and elected officials working towards ending the embargo, which will ultimately benefit both U.S. citizens and the Cuban people,” said PAC official James Williams.

Fernandez has supported the diplomatic reset with Cuba. Bush is vehemently opposed to the thaw.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

January 27, 2016

Asked about U.S.-Cuba policy, Donald Trump notes Miami friendships

@PatriciaMazzei

WEST DES MOINES -- Donald Trump cited his close business ties to Miami on Tuesday as part of the reason why he thinks President Barack Obama should have asked the Cuban government for more concessions to normalize diplomatic relations with the U.S.

"Opening up Cuba now is OK. It's been 50 years. It's a long time," Trump said on Fox News Channel's Special Report with Bret Baier. "I'm down in Miami. I have tremendous holdings in Miami. I deal with tremendous numbers of Cubans and Hispanics and have great relationships in Miami with peoplee. I own Doral, I own Trump National Doral."

Baier had asked Trump if he would build a Havana hotel "even if it benefited the Castro brothers."

Trump didn't answer that question. Instead, he launched into one of his favorite critiques of the Obama administration in particular and government in general: that it doesn't negotiate as well as he does in his real-estate business.

"I think that it's fine to open up Cuba, I think it's good, but I think that we're giving away a lot," he said, comparing it to the nuclear agreement among the U.S., Iran and several other countries. In September, Trump had also called the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement "fine."

"I'm all for Cuba, opening it up, but I do think -- I do think if it's gonna open up, we should make at least a reasonably sane deal, not the deal that we're making right now."

January 26, 2016

Marco Rubio: 'Windfall' for Cuba from latest U.S. export regulations

@PatriciaMazzei

The Obama administration published new regulations Tuesday for U.S.-Cuba exports. Once again, the president's move to normalize relations between the two countries was slammed by Miami's Cuban-American Republican members of Congress, starting with Florida senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

"The Obama Administration's one-sided concessions to Cuba further empower the regime and enable it with an economic windfall," Rubio said in a statement. "These regulations are more proof that the Obama Administration's intent has never been to empower the Cuban people but rather to empower the Cuban government's monopolies and state-run enterprises.

"Our U.S. policy toward Cuba should be driven by our national security interests, securing greater political freedoms and defending the human rights of the Cuban people, none of which are advanced through Obama's latest concessions."

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart also weighed in with a statement accusing President Barack Obama of trying to undercut the trade embargo that can only be lifted by Congress.

This brazen attempt to allow direct trade with the Castro regime has revealed fully that President Obama's policy has nothing to do with supporting the Cuban people but has everything to do with propping up a brutal, anti-American dictatorship 90 miles from our shores. 

With political arrests surpassing 8,000 last year and brave political prisoners such as Vladimir Morera Bacallao, Danilo Maldonado Machado ('El Sexto'), and Misael Canet Velazquez nearly perishing in prison over the past several months, the Castro regime's human rights record remains the worst in our hemisphere. Shamefully, for the first time since the murderous Castro regime seized power decades ago, we have a U.S. president who repeatedly sides with the oppressors over the oppressed. 

However, the majority in Congress and every Cuban-American member, whether Democrat or Republican, whether in the House or Senate, continues to fiercely oppose President Obama's appeasement of the Castro regime. In contrast to the President, we remain in steadfast solidarity with Cuba's true leaders -- the political prisoners and human rights activists who risk everything to demand change in Cuba. We will continue to oppose the Obama-Castro deals that undermine the Cuban people's struggle for freedom by supporting their jailers.

January 21, 2016

Miami-Dade County leaders vote against a (hypothetical) Cuban consulate in Miami

@MrMikeVasquez

Until democracy comes to Cuba, a Cuban consulate should not come to Miami, county leaders proclaimed Wednesday.

In a 9-3 vote, Miami-Dade County commissioners urged the federal government to avoid placing a Cuban consulate on their turf. The talk of a hypothetical consulate in Miami has grown as President Barack Obama pursues warmer relations with the island nation.

Cuba’s embassy in Washington reopened in July. The typical next step would be a U.S. consulate in a city with a large Cuban immigrant population.

Miami obviously fits that description, but County Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo — the son of a Bay of Pigs veteran — says the time is not right. Bovo, who sponsored the county’s anti-consulate resolution Wednesday, said talks between Washington and Havana haven’t produced meaningful changes in how the Cuban government treats its people. The Cuban government is still oppressive, he said, and a consulate location in Miami’s exile community could spark protests, and leave Miami-Dade taxpayers to foot the bill for the cost of protecting consular officials.

“To think for a second, to have the Cuban government here, the dictatorship basically, here in Miami, I think is an affront to a huge majority of the Cuban-American community,” Bovo told the Herald after his measure passed.

Bovo isn’t the only local elected official strongly opposed to the consulate idea. Earlier this week, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said he would sue to block a Cuban consulate from opening within city limits. A 2014 Bendixen & Amandi poll found that Cuban Americans nationally favored the idea of a Miami consulate (50 percent in support, 39 percent opposed) while exiles in Florida were less supportive, with 41 percent in support, and 46 percent opposed.

Bovo’s resolution is largely symbolic, and would not prevent the federal government from placing a consulate wherever it wants, including Miami. The county’s lobbying team in Washington will now have orders to push back against being chosen as a consulate location, and the county’s formal statement in opposition is being transmitted to President Obama, Florida’s congressional delegation and Secretary of State John Kerry.

More here.

January 14, 2016

Facing possible Cuban student influx, Miami-Dade schools ask feds for money

@Cveiga

The Miami-Dade County school district faces a possible influx of students coming from Cuba and wants the federal government to provide additional money to help educate them.

Board members on Wednesday unanimously decided to ask for more funding for schools, where almost 4,000 Cuban students have enrolled in the last six months alone. No number was attached, but Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Miami Herald the cost to educate incoming students could be “upwards of $40 million.”

“This should not force a financial crunch on our school system,” he said. “This can be avoided if our federal government takes action.”

The Pew Research Center says there has been a 78 percent increase in the number of Cubans arriving in the country over the last year. Local municipalities and social service agencies are in preparation mode as an estimated 8,000 Cubans stuck in Costa Rica begin to move towards Mexico. The assumption is that many will end up in the U.S., where Cubans enjoy special immigration status that eases the path to legal residency and citizenship.

“This is not going to be the Mariel boatlift,” Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said in remarks to the school board. “But they’re coming, and they want to come to the City of Miami.”

More here.

January 12, 2016

President Obama to Congress: Lift Cuban embargo

@PatriciaMazzei

President Barack Obama dedicated a (short) paragraph in his final State of the Union address Tuesday to U.S.-Cuba policy. A year ago, he had only just announced his administration's plans to normalize diplomatic relations with the island.

"Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy. It set us back in Latin America," Obama said. "That's why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people. So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over. Lift the embargo."

January 08, 2016

Missing U.S. missile found in Cuba infuriates Marco Rubio, Miami Republicans

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio chided the White House on Friday for failing to inform members of Congress about a missing U.S. Hellfire missile in Cuba's possession.

The Wall Street Journal published the bombshell story late Thursday, prompting Rubio to write the State Department asking what it knew about the missile.

"The fact that the administration, including you, have apparently tried to withhold this information from the congressional debate and public discussion over U.S.-Cuba policy is disgraceful," Rubio wrote to Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Jacobson starred in the Cuba negotiations, and Rubio has been blamed for stalling her nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

"While your bureau is not the primary entity within the State Department handling these issues, you oversee U.S. policy toward Cuba and interactions with Cuban officials," Rubio wrote. "Thus, the fact that members of Congress are reading about Cuba's possession of a U.S. missile in the newspaper rather than from you or other State Department officials is astounding and inexcusable."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about Rubio's letter at a news briefing Friday afternoon. He made a jab at Rubio's missing Senate votes, saying he guessed Rubio "gets most of his information about what's happening in Congress int he newspaper, based on his attendance record."

Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos tweeted that Earnest was being "petty."

Pressed on whether the missile was discussed in talks before the U.S.-Cuba normalization policy was announced, Earnest said he couldn't shed much light, given that the missile's disappearance is under investigation by the state and defense departments.

Separately, four Cuban-American members of Congress, including three Miami Republicans, issued a joint statement calling it "unconscionable" for the U.S. to have pursued normalization talks in spite of the missing missile.

"The Cuban regime rebuffed the President's effort to secure the return of the Hellfire missile even as the negotiations were ongoing, and yet the regime still got everything it could have wanted," wrote Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, and Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat. "It is no wonder that the Castro brothers feel ever more emboldened to continue on with the repression of the Cuban people, with intimidation and unlawful arrests at an alarmingly high rate."

--with Lesley Clark

Cuban Americans in Congress back law to curtail benefits

@PatriciaMazzei

Six Cuban-American members of Congress have signed on to legislation to end automatic federal benefits for newly arrived Cubans.

The office of Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, announced the support Friday, a day after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio revealed he would file a bill in the Senate similar to the one Curbelo filed in the House last month.

Co-sponsoring Curbelo's proposal are Miami Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, West Virginia Republican Alex Mooney and New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires. The only fellow Cuban Americans not listed are New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who could only sign on once Rubio files his bill. (Cruz is a Rubio rival in the presidential race.)

"Together, we can protect those fleeing the Castro dictatorship while ensuring that America's generosity is not being exploited and abused," Curbelo said in a statement.

Three other House members from Florida are also listed: Republican Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach (who is running for U.S. Senate), and Democrats Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. Other co-sponsors so far are Reps. Ryan Costello, R-Pennsylvania; Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.

January 07, 2016

Miami Republicans in Congress again ask White House for Cuban refugees plan

@PatriciaMazzei

Three Miami Republican members of Congress sent their third letter Thursday to President Barack Obama urging the White House to draft a plan to accommodate the influx of Cuban refugees to South Florida.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all Cuban Americans, blame Obama's rapprochement with Cuba for the increase in migrants from the island arriving in the U.S. -- and want him to help local governments absorb the new arrivals.

The House members have written to Obama twice before. Some 8,000 Cubans stranded in Costa Rica are now enroute to the U.S.-Mexico border. Federal policy stipulates that Cubans who reach American soil can remain in the country. After 366 days, they can apply for U.S. residency.

"Since our previous letters, we have been in contact with Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, and Doral Mayor Luigi Boria about their concerns regarding the growing strain on local governments and services in South Florida," the trio wrote Thursday. "Through its Homeless program, the City of Miami has been able to place Cuban migrants into shelters. However, these centers are now at full capacity and can no longer receive any of the 8,000 new refugees expected to arrive in the coming weeks. We have also been informed that Catholic Charities, Church World Services, and the International Rescue Committee do not have the funds necessary to assist these new refugees because they are already overwhelmed by the surge of Cuban nationals that have recently arrived in the United States."

Read the full letter: here.