March 24, 2015

Florida Senate votes to oppose U.S.-Cuba relations

Cuba

In an emotional speech Tuesday, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, asked her fellow senators to oppose President Obama’s recent decision to open up diplomatic relations with Cuba.

All but one agreed.

The measure, which also discourages the federal government from allowing a Cuban consulate in Florida, is largely symbolic. But it was important for the Cuban-American members of the state Senate, Flores said.

"A lot of my friends and colleagues have asked why we care so deeply," she said on the Senate Floor.

Flores told the story of how her mother had fled the island nation as a girl. 

She spoke about the "hundreds of thousands [who] sit in prison every day for having the gall to stand up and say something." And she showed photographs of the Ladies in White, the wives and family members of imprisoned Cuban dissidents who hold regular protests in Havana.

"They are spit upon, they are beat up, they are harassed," Flores said.

Flores said the Obama administration's decision to ease travel restrictions to Cuba would allow American visitors to "have it all," while Cuban residents would continue to suffer.

"I know you've seen the pictures of the beautiful beaches were the tourists can go," she said. "No one who is a Cuban citizen can go to those places."

Her call was echoed by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican who said members of his family had been imprisoned and killed for speaking out against the government.

Diaz de la Portilla said the new Cuba policy would "do nothing but ensure that the [Castro] regime stays in power."

"To think that by spending American cash, so Americans can by Cuban cigars and Cuban rum and stay at hotels on stolen land, that these two obstinate octogenarian dictators and their cronies are going to change anything is naive at best," he said.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, urged his colleagues to "send a message to this administration that we understand the plight and the problems [Cubans] are facing, and that we must continue to put the pressure on the Castro regime to open up and be transparent."

The measure passed on a voice vote, with Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, saying he was proud to stand with the members of the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation.

Only one senator opposed the proposal.

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, said she understood the Cuban-American senators' "passion and pain." But she defended the Obama administration's "historic steps to chart a new course" in Cuba.

"I know in my heart that there was no malice intended by the promulgation of this policy by the Obama administration, and I know that his moving this forward is an effort to bring freedom to the Cuban nation," Joyner said.

A similar proposal, sponsored by Republican Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. and Jeanette Núñez, is ready for a vote on the House floor.

So far, the House version has yet to win the support of a single Democrat. But Núñez hopes that will change.

"This is not a partisan debate for us," she said. "We're not going to denigrate the president. We're going to keep it to the policy."

March 19, 2015

Miami Republican members of Congress oppose Cuban embassy in Washington, citing spies

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami's three Cuban-American Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives say they don't want to see a Cuban embassy opened in Washington D.C. -- or a Cuban consulate anywhere else in the country -- because it would risk allowing Cuba to spy on the U.S.

There is already a Cuban interests section in D.C., and a Cuban mission to the United Nations.

"We are all too familiar with the Castro regime's efforts to utilize their diplomats as intelligence agents tasked with the goal of committing espionage against their host countries," the members of Congress and several colleagues wrote in a letter Thursday to the U.S. State Department. "We believe that allowing Cuba to open an embassy in Washington, D.C. or consulates will further open the door for their espionage activities." 

They also asked to be briefed in detail about the status of the negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba to normalize diplomatic relations.

Signing the letter were Miami Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, as well as Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat and fellow Cuban American, and Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican whose father was born in Cuba. Cruz is considering a 2016 presidential candidacy.

February 26, 2015

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: 'Cuba poses a clear and present danger to the United States'

At a congressional hearing reviewing President Barack Obama's Cuba policy, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told members of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee that the Castro regime "undermines our national security at every turn."

"Let me be clear," Ros-Lehtinen said in prepared remarks. "Cuba poses a clear and present danger to the United States."

Read her complete remarks after the jump.

Continue reading "Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: 'Cuba poses a clear and present danger to the United States'" »

February 17, 2015

Nancy Pelosi leads congressional delegation to Cuba

@PatriciaMazzei

A group of Democratic members of Congress, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, is scheduled to arrive Tuesday in Cuba as part of the first formal U.S. House of Representatives trip since President Obama moved toward closer diplomatic ties with the island's communist regime.

The group will meet with "Cuban government officials, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, local community leaders and representatives, and American officials at the U.S. interests section," according to a news release from Pelosi's office. It's unclear whether the local community leaders and representatives will include any dissidents.

"This delegation travels to Cuba in friendship and to build upon the announcement of U.S. normalization of relations and other initiatives announced by President Obama," Pelosi said in a statement. "This delegation will work to advance the U.S.-Cuba relationship and build on the work done by many in the Congress over the years, especially with respect to agriculture and trade."

None of the representatives on the trip are from Florida.

In addition to Pelosi, they are: Reps. Eliot Engel, Steve Israel and Nydia Velázquez of New York; Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, and Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island.

Three Democratic senators -- Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Mark Warner of Virginia -- wrapped up a four-day visit to Cuba on Tuesday.

February 13, 2015

Marco Rubio faces stiff odds in reversing Cuba policy

via @CAdamsMcClatchy

In December, just hours after the White House abruptly changed course in the nation’s relationship with Cuba, Sen. Marco Rubio laid down his marker.

“I intend to use every tool at our disposal in the majority to unravel as many of these changes as possible,” he said Dec. 17.

It’s now February – and despite congressional hearings and ongoing pressure on the administration, it’s not clear that Rubio and other opponents can undo what the president already did.

Rubio is perhaps the nation’s most prominent lawmaker on the Cuba issue. He’s a Cuban-American, a member of the Senate’s Republican majority and a potential presidential candidate. And he represents Florida, Cuba’s closest U.S. neighbor.

But according to Cuba experts, Rubio might have little ability to reverse Obama’s changes. And Rubio might have realized that.

More here.

January 30, 2015

Venezuela makes wrongly detained Miami Herald reporter the face of....tourism?

From @jimwyss:

Venezuela is at a tourism convention in Spain this week trying to draw visitors. It has to be a tough sell, considering it’s one of the most murderous countries in the hemisphere and is prone to civil unrest.

Perhaps as part of the campaign, they’ve rolled out a hash-tag called #Amamosavenezuela or “We love Venezuela.” In a promo on state-run Telesur television the tag-line reads: “We love Venezuela for receiving foreigners like one of our own.”

Unfortunately, they’re using a picture of me at Miami International Airport from Nov. 2013. The reason I’m so happy is because I’m just getting back to the U.S. after spending 48 hours in detention in Venezuela.

Considering there are still dozens of people under arrest for protesting last year, perhaps the tag-line is right on.

Wyss

 

January 28, 2015

Marco Rubio schedules Senate hearing on U.S.-Cuba policy

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio took the helm Wednesday of a subcommittee -- and promptly scheduled a hearing on on President Obama's new Cuba policy.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Western Hemisphere subcommittee, Rubio called for a hearing at 10 a.m. next Tuesday to "examine President Obama's changes to Cuba policy, and its implications for human rights in the island," according to a news release.

"Being from Florida, I've seen how events in the Western Hemisphere not only impact our state but our entire nation. For too long, Congress and the Administration have failed to prioritize our relations in this hemisphere." Rubio said in the statement.

"As chairman of the subcommittee, I will promote bold measures that improve U.S. economic and security interests by addressing the region's growing calls for transparent institutions, access to quality education, private sector competitiveness, and respect for political and economic freedom for all."

Rubio, who has been taking steps toward a potential presidential campaign, is also a member of three other Foreign Relations subcommittees.

Read his full statement after the jump.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio schedules Senate hearing on U.S.-Cuba policy" »

January 21, 2015

Miami-Dade commission asks Congress to revise Cuban Adjustment Act

@PatriciaMazzei

The most unusual of votes about U.S.-Cuba policy took place Wednesday -- not in Washington or Havana, but in Miami.

After a wrought discussion, the Miami-Dade County Commission unanimously agreed to ask Congress to revise the Cuban Adjustment Act, a 1966 federal law that allows Cubans, unlike any other foreigners, to apply for U.S. residency one year and one day after arriving.

As a local government, the commission has no foreign-policy authority. But as a legislative body in the home of the country's largest Cuban community, the vote represents a symbolic acknowledgment -- even from longtime hardliners -- that at least portions of U.S.-Cuba policy needs a fresh look.

"This is a good thing that has been misused in some cases, but it doesn't mean we have to throw it away," Commissioner Javier Souto, a Cuban-born Republican, said of the CAA. "We shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater."

Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, the Republican son of Cuban immigrants who became U.S. residents thanks to the law, had proposed asking Congress to repeal it altogether -- a bold request that drew attention among Cuban exiles already on edge about President Obama's move to normalize relations with the island's communist regime.

Continue reading "Miami-Dade commission asks Congress to revise Cuban Adjustment Act" »

January 20, 2015

In Spanish, GOP rebuttal to State of the Union mentions Cuba -- but not in English

@PatriciaMazzei

Newly elected Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo was given the (generally thankless) task Tuesday of delivering the Republican Party's Spanish-language rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union address. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst responded in English.

The two freshmen's remarks were mostly the same. They differed, as expected, on matters of biography: Ernst spoke about having a single pair of shoes growing up in Iowa winters, Curbelo said he grew up "in Miami, one of the country's most diverse cities."

But they also diverged on a more substantive matter: Curbelo mentioned Cuba, criticizing "unearned concessions" by the Obama administration to "cruel dictatorships" in Cuba and Iran. Ernst made a separate mention of Iran -- and didn't utter Cuba once.

Curbelo is Cuban-American, so it was not surprising that he would go after Obama on the subject. Obama himself devoted a paragraph of his speech to establishing closer ties with the island, and asked Congress explicitly to lift the trade embargo against Cuba.

What's perhaps more noteworthy is that Ernst said nothing on the subject, highlighting the rift within the GOP about whether rapprochement with Raúl Castro's communist regime is a good idea. Several Republicans -- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio -- made a statement against Obama's actions by inviting Cuban dissidents and their families to the U.S. Capitol for the president's speech. But other Republicans, including from agricultural states in the heartland, have been much more open to normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations if it will benefit American business interests.

Ernst stayed out of it.

Another difference between the two speeches: Curbelo, an immigration-reform proponent, mentioned "modernizing legal immigration." Ernst didn't bring up immigration at all.

Curbelo also offered "condolences" to France in the wake of the terrorist attack there this month.

The differences are particularly noteworthy because the House GOP said when it announced its rebuttal speakers that Curbelo would offer a translation of Ernst's remarks. Curbelo said Tuesday afternoon that there would be differences, and Republicans changed their tune after Mother Jones reported earlier Tuesday that Ernst's positions -- particularly in support of English as the country's official language -- seemed in conflict with a Spanish-language rebuttal.

Fact-checking claims about Cuba by Marco Rubio, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ana Navarro

President Barack Obama’s administration has hit the reset button on Cuba, setting off a series of political claims from Florida.

On Jan. 15, the federal departments of Treasury and Commerce released new rules that make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and send money there. While the embargo remains in place -- that could only be lifted by Congress -- the new rules allow increased exports to the island and allow American visitors to return home with some Cuban cigars and rum.

As part of the deal between the two countries, Cuba released USAID worker Alan Gross and another spy whom the government didn’t identify (the Miami Heraldreported that Rolando Sarraff fits the description). Cuba also announced it would release 53 political prisoners -- though news reports stated that two have been arrested again. In return, the United States released three imprisoned Cuban spies.

The rules follow Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement that the United States would normalize relations with Cuba. Florida’s Cuban-American senator, Marco Rubio of Miami, blasted the move, as did some other GOP South Florida members of Congress. (Tampa Bay’s U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat, strongly supported the move.)

Cuba has been a hot topic in Florida politics for decades -- including in last year’s race for governor. But Obama’s announcement paves the way for more debate about Cuba heading into the 2016 presidential election.  Obama will likely mention Cuba in his State of the Union speech, given thatGross will sit with First Lady Michelle Obama. Rubio, meanwhile, has invited Rosa María Payá, daughter of the late activist Oswaldo Payá, who was killed in a suspicious car accident on the island. The GOP response will be given by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and translated into Spanish by Miami’s U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Here’s a summary of some of PolitiFact Florida's recent fact-checks that relate to Cuba.