May 25, 2016

CBO report says ending automatic Cuban refugee payments would save money

@PatriciaMazzei

It seems obvious, but now a nonpartisan report confirms it: Ending automatic welfare payments to Cuban immigrants would save the federal government money.

That’s according to the Congressional Budget Office, which analyzed proposed legislation by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Sen. Marco Rubio, two Cuban-American Republicans.

The CBO estimated the feds would save $2.45 billion over 10 years if recently arrived Cubans were no longer treated automatically as refugees deserving of food stamps and other aid. About $1.05 billion would be saved from 2017-21, and another $1.4 billion from 2022-27.

The savings give Curbelo and Rubio a new selling point for their bill, which they filed to curtail abuse by some Cuban immigrants who send the money back to the island. GOP leaders in Congress — particularly House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — have said they’re not interested in taking up immigration legislation. With the CBO report in hand, Rubio and Curbelo might have better luck pitching their proposal as a way to save money.

More here.

May 03, 2016

Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld is in Cuba, and a Miami congresswoman is not happy about it

Cuba Chanel

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen knows a thing or two about how to troll on Twitter.

Her account, @RosLehtinen, has spent the past couple of weeks periodically posting about French fashion house Chanel, which plans to hold a runway show Tuesday night in Havana.

Ros-Lehtinen's particular target: designer Karl Lagerfeld, the German haute couture powerhouse heading Chanel's line, "inspired" by Cuba. The congresswoman used the opportunity to highlight repression against Cuba's Ladies in White dissidents.

A sample of her tweets:

Ros-Lehtinen is a vocal opponent of President Obama's reestablished diplomatic relations with the Castro regime. That puts her at odds with Miami Cuban-American superstar musicians Emilio and Gloria Estefan, who told New York Magazine they back the new policy and are happy to see Chanel on the island.

Photo credit: Ramon Espinosa, Associated Press

Poll: Donald Trump would drive Miami Cubans away from GOP

@PatriciaMazzei 

Donald Trump is the catalyst who could force a decisive break between Miami-Dade County’s influential Cuban-American voters and the Republican Party, a new poll has found.

Local Cuban Americans dislike Trump so much — and are increasingly so accepting of renewed U.S.-Cuba ties pushed by Democratic President Barack Obama — that Trump’slikely presidential nomination might accentuate the voters’ political shift away from the GOP, according to the survey shared with the Miami Herald and conducted by Dario Moreno, a Coral Gables pollster and a Florida International University associate politics professor.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents supported Trump, a number that is still higher than the 31 percent who backed Clinton — but also “the lowest in history that any potential Republican candidate polls among this traditionally loyal demographic,” according to Moreno. He added that the results put likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton within “striking distance” of winning over the influential voting demographic. Trump won the March 15 Florida GOP primary in a rout.

“We’ve been seeing demographic changes in this community since 2004,” Moreno said, as younger voters of Cuban descent, and recent Cuban immigrants, have increasingly identified as Democrats or independents. “With Trump, the real danger is that he’s going to accelerate this realignment in Miami.”

Moreno is a Republican who has polled for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, though this poll was not conducted on either politician's behalf.

The pollster acknowledged his own bias against the Republican presidential front-runner: “I can’t vote for Trump,” Moreno said. “I’m not going to vote for Hillary, but I’m not going to vote for Trump.”

More here.

April 18, 2016

Another Florida Senate candidate weighs in on Carnival's Cuba trip

@PatriciaMazzei

Last week, we polled Florida Senate candidates to find out where they stood on Carnival Corp.'s plan to sail to Cuba even if Cuban-born Americans couldn't go. We found rare, bipartisan agreement against the company's decision. 

But we didn't hear back from Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter until Monday, after Carnival reversed course and said it would accept bookings from Cuban-born Americans and postpone the May 1 cruise if Cuba doesn't change its decree.

Here's what his spokeswoman had to say:

Congressman Murphy would not support Carnival or any company discriminating against individuals based on their ethnicity or country of origin. He is glad that Carnival appears to be reversing their policy today.

The Cuban government needs to modernize its policy, or risk losing American tourism dollars.

Will there be any other issue in the campaign that will draw agreement among all the Republican and Democratic candidates?

Proponents of Cuba engagement to launch Miami Spanish-language radio program

Obama US Cuba

@PatriciaMazzei

Opening a new front in their political push for closer U.S.-Cuba ties, proponents of Cuba engagement are taking to the medium that for decades has voiced the most strident opposition to their cause: Miami's Spanish-language radio.

The hour-long paid program will debut Tuesday on WQBA-AM (1140), a local station owned by media giant Univision. For its inaugural show, CUBAHORA -- a play on words that translates to "Cuba Now" or "Cuba Hour" -- will feature an interview with former U.S. Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, a Cuban-American Republican who favors normalized relations with the island. Though the program is paid advertising, Tuesday's interviewers will be WQBA anchor José Alfonso Almora, a trusted voice among listeners.

Lengthy paid programming is not unusual on Spanish-language radio, especially during election season, when candidates or their Hispanic surrogates seek to reach older Cuban-American voters who reliably cast ballots (the programs include a disclaimer). But a weekly slot to push the pro-engagement position might still surprise listeners used to anchors with a more hardline editorial bent. Notably, the program won't air on the higher-rated -- and more conservative -- Radio Mambí, WQBA's sister station and Univision's local Spanish-language flagship. (WQBA was once so focused on its Cuban-exile listeners it called itself "La Cubanísima," which loosely translates to "the very Cuban.")

The program is paid for by Cuba Now, a nonprofit group that advocates among other things for lifting the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. Its executive director, Ric Herrero, will provide commentary alongside Almora.

Continue reading "Proponents of Cuba engagement to launch Miami Spanish-language radio program" »

Former Miami U.S. attorney had asked Justice Department to investigate Carnival cruise to Cuba

@PatriciaMazzei

Before Carnival Corp. announced Monday it would postpone its upcoming cruise to Cuba if Cuban-born Americans couldn't buy tickets, it faced political pressure from all sides -- including, as it turns out, from a one-time Miami federal prosecutor.

Former U.S. Attorney Bob Martinez had asked the Justice Department last week to investigate whether Carnival's trip would violate civil-rights protections. He had tried to book passage on the cruise and was told he couldn't because he was born in Cuba.

"I thought that was pretty outrageous," he said. "It kind of just hits you, like, 'Whoa, what do you mean I can't? I'm a U.S. citizen."

The cruise company had originally planned to set sail even if the Cuban government continued to prohibit Cuban-born Americans from traveling to the island by sea. It now intends to postpone the May 1 voyage if Cuba doesn't lift its decree before then.

"Smart," Martinez said Monday.

Last Thursday, he wrote Attorney General Loretta Lynch. He's yet to get a response but said he knows his letter got read by some DOJ folks.

"That the U.S. civil rights laws prohibit national origin discrimination should not be surprising to anyone, least of all to a major U.S. business, such as Carnival, with its operational headquarters based in Miami, Florida. And yet, that is exactly what Carnival is doing," he wrote. "Shamelessly, Carnival tries to absolve itself from its illegal conduct by pointing its finger at the Cuban Government and blaming it for its discriminatory laws. But, it is Carnival that is playing the role of the Cuban Government police, doing its dirty work by enforcing the Cuban Government's discriminatory laws. Carnival is willing to play that role for business reasons."

In a statement Monday, Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said he expects Cuba to change its regulations.

"We want everyone to be able to go to Cuba with us," he said.

Read Martinez's letter: Letter

April 16, 2016

Carnival cruise to Cuba leads to rare, unintended bipartisan agreement against company's plans

IMG_Cad14_Carnival_NEW_H_2_1_AQ7QKD61_L212884987

@PatriciaMazzei @Chabelih

Carnival Corp.’s scheduled sail to Cuba — even if Cuban-born Americans can’t buy tickets — has accomplished a rare and unintended political feat: bipartisan agreement against the cruise company’s plans.

Republican and Democratic members of Congress and candidates running for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives told the Miami Herald on Friday that Carnival shouldn’t transport passengers to the island while Cuba maintains its policy barring native Cubans from traveling by sea to their country of birth.

Asked about the mounting political pressure, a Carnival spokesman said Friday afternoon the company hopes Cuba will lift its decree before the ship’s departure.

“We continue to believe that Cuba will modify its regulation before we sail on May 1 based on our ongoing discussions with Cuban officials, so we will be able to cruise there on our inaugural cruise under the same regulations as aircraft do today,” Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell said in a statement.

“We appreciate and understand the concerns being voiced, and we have confidence this issue will be resolved before we ever sail.”

Opposing the trip were three Senate candidates (Republicans Carlos Beruff of Sarasota and Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, and Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando), Miami’s three Republicans in Congress (Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen), and Curbelo’s two Democratic rivals (former Rep. Joe Garcia and Annette Taddeo).

More here.

Photo courtesy Carnival Corp.

April 14, 2016

Miami congressman shares concerns over whether Cuba is ready for more air travel

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo gave a thumbs up Thursday to his colleagues in Congress asking the Obama administration for additional scrutiny of air passengers traveling to the U.S. from Cuba.

Three Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives -- Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security; John Katko of New York and Scott Perry of California -- wrote Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson earlier this week asking for answers to a series of questions about safety screenings at Cuban airports, now that more people are making the trip from the island.

"We are concerned that the rapid speed at which preparations for regular commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba will come at the cost of failing to ensure that adequate safety and security protocols are in place," they wrote. "This could jeopardize the safety of U.S. travelers and our homeland and national security."

They noted Havana's airport "does not have adequate terminal or tarmac space" and said they're worried a crush of new passengers could lead to costly security mistakes.

Curbelo agreed.

"Senior U.S. intelligence officials have made it clear there are serious safety concerns with Cuban government workers, who are ill-trained and lacking proper equipment to adequately screen commercial air passengers," Curbelo said in a statement Thursday. "From the devastating terrorist attacks in Europe, we have learned that we must do everything we can to keep those intending to do us harm out of our country and bringing this issue to light is a bold first step."

Read the congressmen's letter: Letter

Marco Rubio blasts Senate for refusing vote on end to welfare benefits for Cuban 'refugees'

 

@PatriciaMazzei

The U.S. Senate refused to vote Thursday on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s bid to stop giving welfare benefits to Cuban immigrants, prompting an exasperated Rubio to take to the Senate floor to blast political paralysis in Congress.

“This is why people are so sick of politics,” said Rubio, who noted that, until a month ago, he was a Republican presidential candidate hearing from voters about their frustrations with lawmakers. “You can vote for a Democrat, you can vote for a Republican, you can vote for a vegetarian. It doesn’t matter who you vote for: Nothing happens. These people don’t do anything.”

“No one can argue this,” he added of his proposal, which he argued would put an end to abuse by some Cubans who take the welfare dollars back to the island. “But I can’t even get a vote on an amendment to change this.”

And why not? According to Rubio, because fellow Republicans tell him, “‘We can’t vote on it because if we give you your amendment, then we have to give the other side their amendment.’” (The other side being Democrats.)

“This is crazy. This is nuts. We can’t solve problems,” Rubio said. He noted the plan has bipartisan support: U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, is a cosponsor in the House of Representatives. Florida’s senior senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, signed on to Rubio’s bill Thursday, saying the welfare benefits “were meant to help those fleeing persecution by Castro’s oppressive regime, not to be a source of income for those who returned to Cuba.”

More here.

John Kerry condemns Cuba policy banning Cuban Americans from cruise travel to island

via @oppenheimera

Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday condemned Cuba’s policy of discriminating against Cuban-born Americans who want to travel to the island by sea, and criticized Carnival Corp. for enforcing that rule.

“The United States government will never support, never condone discrimination. And the Cuban government should not have the right to enforce on us a policy of discrimination against people who have the right to travel,” Kerry said during an interview with the Miami Herald and CNN en Español in Miami.

“American citizens, Cuban-Americans, have a right to travel, and we should not be in a situation where the Cuban government is forcing its discrimination policy on us. So we call on the government of Cuba to change that policy and to recognize that if they want full relations and normal relationship with the United States, they have to live by international laws, not exclusively by Cuban laws.”

Asked whether Carnival should postpone its plans to start cruises to Cuba until Cuban-born Americans are allowed to travel the island, Kerry said, “Carnival needs to not discriminate.”

Kerry was in Miami for a graduation speech at Miami Dade College.

This developing story will be updated here.