February 16, 2017

Trump says his Cuba views are 'very similar' to Rubio's

RUBIO Y TRUMP
via @ngameztorres

President Donald Trump said during a press conference Thursday that he shares Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s views on Cuba.

“We had dinner with Senator Rubio and his wife, who was by the way, lovely, and we had a very good discussion about Cuba, because we have very similar views on Cuba,” Trump told journalists.

“Cuba has been very good to me, in the Florida elections, you know, the Cuban people, Americans,” he added in reference to the support of Cuban American voters.

Former rival Rubio and his wife had dinner with Trump and First Lady Melania on Wednesday night, after the president received Lilian Tintori, the wife of the Venezuelan political prisoner Leopoldo López in the White House. A smiling Rubio posed for a photo with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Tintori.

The comment suggests a possible change in Cuba policy since Rubio was one of the staunchest critics of former President Barack Obama’s engagement with Cuba, especially in the area of human rights.

More here.

Photo credit: Rainier Ehrhardt, Associated Press

January 26, 2017

Raúl Castro: I want 'respectful dialogue' with Trump

Dominican Republic CELAC (2)
via @HeraldMimi

Making his first foreign trip since his brother Fidel’s death, Raúl Castro told leaders at the V Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that Cuba wants to continue its rapprochement with the United States and have a dialogue with the Trump administration.

“I want to express the willingness of Cuba to continue negotiating on pending bilateral matters with the United States on the basis of equality, reciprocity and respect for the sovereignty and independence of our country and to pursue a respectful dialogue and cooperation on topics of common interest with the new government of President Donald Trump,” Castro said during a speech at the CELAC summit being held in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and attended by 10 heads of state and 33 foreign ministers from the region.

Trump has made various pronouncements on U.S. relations with Cuba, ranging from seeking a better deal in negotiations with Havana to scrapping the Obama administration’s opening unless Cuba makes political concessions, including religious and political freedom for the Cuban people. His nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has said the Trump administration plans to review all former president Barack Obama’s executive orders underlying the rapprochement with Cuba.

“Cuba and the United States can cooperate and live together in a civilized way, respecting our differences and promoting that which benefits both countries and peoples,” Castro said, “but one shouldn’t wait for Cuba to undertake inherent concessions to its sovereignty and independence.”

More here.

Photo credit: Associated Press

Port Everglades calls off Cuba agreement after governor threatens funding cut

Zika Florida (1)
@AmySherman1 @HeraldMimi @PatriciaMazzei

After Gov. Rick Scott threatened to financially cut off Florida ports that do business with Cuba, a Broward County commissioner said Thursday that Port Everglades has canceled plans to sign an agreement with Cuba.

Commissioner Chip LaMarca told the Miami Herald on Thursday morning, minutes after speaking with Port director Steve Cernak, that Cernak told him the memorandum of understanding with Cuba won’t be signed. However, LaMarca said that port officials will still hold their scheduled meeting with the Cuba delegation at the port in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday.

“The port director was a little upset way things transpired, nevertheless he understood the governor’s position,” LaMarca said. “With respect to the MOU it was canceled yesteray afternoon once the governor’s position was made. They are going to still have meeting.”

Port Everglades sent a brief email to the media Thursday morning:

“The National Port Administration of Cuba has indicated to Port Everglades administration that there is no need for a memorandum of understanding at this time. However, today’s business meeting and related activities will continue as planned.”

More here.

Photo credit: Associated Press

January 25, 2017

Florida ports are getting legal Cuban cargo for the first time, and Gov. Rick Scott is unhappy about it

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Gov. Rick Scott threatened Wednesday to strip state funds from two South Florida seaports ready to sign business deals with the Cuban government.

Over three posts on Twitter, the governor said he would ask state lawmakers to restrict dollars for ports that “enter into any agreement with Cuban dictatorship” — as Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach plan to do Thursday and Friday, respectively.

“We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behavior,” Scott tweeted in English and Spanish, using the preferred social-media platform of his friend, President Donald Trump. “Serious security/human rights concerns.”

Scott’s position came a day after the first legal cargo from Cuba — artisanal charcoal — in more than half a century arrived Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades. The Port of Palm Beach is located in Riviera Beach. 

More here.

This post has been updated.

January 18, 2017

Obama: Wet foot, dry foot 'was a carryover of an old way of thinking'

Obama
@PatriciaMazzei

At his final White House news conference Wednesday, President Barack Obama made his first remarks about ending the special immigration policy for Cubans last week. Here is his answer in full, to a question about why he did away with wet foot/dry foot:

We underwent a monumental shift in our policy towards Cuba. My view was, after 50 years of the policy not working, it made sense for us to try to reopen diplomatic relations to engage the Cuban government, to be honest with them about the strong disagreements we have around political repression and treatment of dissenters and freedom of the press and freedom of religion. But to make progress for the Cuban people, our best shot was to suddenly have the Cuban people interacting with Americans, and seeing the incredibly  success of the Cuban-American community, and engaging in commerce and business and trade, and that it was through that process of opening up these bilateral relations that you would see over time serious and significant improvement.

Given that shift in the relationship, the policy that we had in place, which treated Cuban émigrés completely different from folks from El Salvador or Guatemala or Nicaragua or any other part of the world, one that made a distinction about whether you got here by land or by foot, that was a carryover of an old way of thinking that didn't make sense in this day and age, particularly as we're opening up travel between the two countries. And so we had very lengthy consultations with the Department of Homeland Security, we had some tough negotiations with the Cuban [government], but we arrived at a policy that we think is both fair and appropriate to the changing nature of the relationship between the two countries.

Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

January 16, 2017

Rubio: Cuban immigration policy 'was going to be changed one way or another'

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio confirmed Monday that he won't try to bring back the special immigration status for Cubans that President Barack Obama eliminated last week in a surprise move.

"Wet foot/dry foot -- and the Cuban Adjustment Act in general -- was in danger," Rubio told reporters in Miami. Obama's reestablishing of diplomatic relations with Cuba undermined "the very essence and the purpose of the law, its justification."

"There's been well-documented abuses of the program," added the Florida Republican, who had filed legislation to tighten federal benefits for recent Cuban arrivals. "In my view, the Cuban Adjustment Act was going to be changed one way or another."

He even predicted there would be enough votes in Congress to repeal the law altogether.

The Cuban Adjustment Act still stands, but Obama's actions Thursday effectively gutted it, making it much more difficult for Cubans to remain legally in the U.S. and qualify under the act's protections.

While he won't ask President-elect Donald Trump to bring back the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, Rubio reiterated he'll push to reinstate the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program that gave refuse to Cuban medical professionals forced to work abroad who defected to the U.S. In a statement Thursday, Rubio said he spoke to Vice President-elect Mike Pence about the issue.

Now that Cubans who arrive undocumented in the U.S. must request political asylum to try to remain in the country, Rubio said he hoped their asylum claims would be given a full hearing.

"I don't want to see stories about people who came that way," with legitimate claims of oppression, he added, "and were sent back to Cuba."

January 15, 2017

Miami affiliate debuts Havana-based news crew, a first for local U.S. stations

Hatzel_First Flight

via @HeraldMimi

WPLG Local 10 News reporter Hatzel Vela and photojournalist Brian Ely have become the ABC affiliate’s men in Havana.

The pair arrived last Wednesday to become the South Florida station’s full-time Havana-based crew. That gives WPLG the distinction of being the first local station in the United States to have a news crew in Cuba on a full-time basis.

Local 10 News Havana officially debuts Monday, but when news broke last Thursday that the United States was ending its policy of allowing the entry of Cuban migrants who arrive without visas, the pair had their first big story since the Cuban government granted them approval to set up shop on the island.

WPLG, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, doesn’t call its new office a bureau, but rather refers to the arrangement as having a Havana-based news team that lives and works in Cuba.

“Our goal is for this to last and be there for the long haul,” said Bill Pohovey, the station’s vice president of news. “At this point it is not a permanent thing; it is a trial run. We have to see how this works for us.”

More here.

January 12, 2017

What Trump said as a candidate about wet foot, dry foot

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@PatriciaMazzei
 
At least twice as a candidate, President-elect Donald Trump was asked about the wet foot, dry foot immigration policy toward Cubans that President Barack Obama ended Thursday.
 
Trump has yet to weigh in on the Obama repeal, though the White House told Cuban Americans on a call Thursday evening the Trump transition team had been briefed about the decision, according to a person on the call.
 
In February of last year, the Tampa Bay Times asked Trump if it was fair for Cubans who arrive in the U.S. to automatically get legal status, a path to citizenship and federal welfare benefits.
 
"I don’t think that’s fair. I mean why would that be a fair thing?" Trump responded. "I don’t think it would be fair. You know we have a system now for bringing people into the country, and what we should be doing is we should be bringing people who are terrific people who have terrific records of achievement, accomplishment.... You have people that have been in the system for years [waiting to immigrate to America], and it’s very unfair when people who just walk across the border, and you have other people that do it legally."
 
Pressed again in August, Trump deflected a question from the Miami Herald specifically about whether he would end wet foot, dry foot. (Video below.)
 
"Well, interestingly, I'm having a meeting on that in about a week with a lot of people from Cuba, originally from Cuba, and Cuban Americans," he said. "And I'm going to be talking about that. I'm going to have a decision probably pretty quickly on that. But I want to get their feeling. I want to listen to what the people are saying. And I want to listen specifically to what Cuban people who came to this country, and who have lived in this country, Cuban Americans. I want to hear how they feel."
 
Trump's meeting with Cuban Americans in Miami didn't take place until more than a month later -- and no policy specifics were discussed.
Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

The last Cubans to cross one U.S. border checkpoint under wet foot, dry foot

Lastcubans
via @FrancoOrdonez

The U.S. border patrol agent checked the 32-year-old Cuban electrical engineer’s and his 7-year-old son’s documents one last time. Then he welcomed them into the country.

But before Yuniesky Marcos Roque walked away, the agent told him he was the last Cuban who would be allowed through the border station.

“He told me that my son and I were the last Cubans to be let in,” said Marcos, pulling his son, Kevin, toward him. “I’m very emotional right now. I came here for him. So he could have a better future. I’m relieved that we made it, but sad for the others waiting on the bridge.”

President Barack Obama announced Thursday afternoon that he was ending the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allowed Cubans to remain in the United States simply by touching American soil. The decision was effective immediately.

The decision was felt especially hard in this city on the border with Mexico, where dozens of Cubans have been arriving daily, racing to enter the United States worried that this exact moment would arrive. Cubans who’d made it to a safe house in this city Thursday morning said they believed dozens were in line to enter when the policy ended.

More here.

'Have you no shame, President Obama?' Florida politicians react to wet foot, dry foot repeal

Cubafootpolicy_8col
@PatriciaMazzei

President Barack Obama undid 20 years of U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba on Thursday, repealing the "wet foot, dry foot" position that allowed Cubans who reached U.S. soil to remain in the country without fear of deportation.

Reaction from Florida politicians, including Cuban-American hardline members of Congress, was swift.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida:

The ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy was put in place many years ago to help those who were fleeing Castro’s repressive regime. I believe changing this outdated policy in order to be fair to all and also to prevent people from abusing the system is the right thing to do.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida:

While I have acknowledged the need to reform the Cuban Adjustment Act for some time now, the Obama Administration’s characterization of this change as part of the ongoing normalization with the Castro regime is absurd. It is in fact President Obama's failed Cuba policy, combined with the Castro regime’s increased repression, that has led to a rise in Cuban migration since 2014.

 

The Cuban Adjustment Act has provided countless Cubans the opportunity to escape the Castro tyranny. However, in recent years it has also led to growing abuses. While some changes were needed, we must work to ensure that Cubans who arrive here to escape political persecution are not summarily returned to the regime, and they are given a fair opportunity to apply for and receive political asylum.

 

Furthermore, I am concerned by the decision to terminate the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. For decades, the Castro regime has forced thousands of doctors to go abroad as a tool of its foreign policy. This is political repression, and I am optimistic that the incoming Trump Administration will reverse this part of the executive order and allow these doctors to seek asylum at U.S. embassies or consulates in other countries.

 

I had the opportunity to discuss this issue with Vice President-elect Pence this evening, and I am heartened by the fact that in a week we will have a new administration committed to discarding the failed Cuba policy of the last two years.”

 U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami:

President Obama's policy legitimizing the Castro dictatorship created a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty in Cuba and resulted in a mass exodus from the island. Since the President announced his deal with Castro at the end of 2014, almost 100,000 Cubans have reached our shores. Many others fled the island but never arrived, instead dying at sea or in the jungles of Central America.

For two years, I have demanded a solution to this crisis from the Administration. Instead, the Administration chose to wait until the last hour to act, and as usual collaborated directly with the Cuban dictatorship instead of consulting members of Congress. America’s policy toward Cuba should serve to advance U.S. interests, and it should never be coordinated with anti-American dictators.

Although our country's immigration policy toward Cuba has granted many of the dictatorship's victims refuge, it has also been grossly abused and exploited by many Cuban nationals, while also inadvertently bolstering the Cuban regime. A change to this policy was inevitable. I remain firmly committed to supporting the victims of persecution in Cuba while ending all abuses of America’s generosity.

With regards to the cancellation of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which offered refuge to Cuban doctors who are in effect slaves of the regime assigned to countries around world, it is regrettable and a clear example of the Cuban regimes influence over the Obama Administration. I hope the incoming Administration will consider reinstating this program.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami (in a statement titled, "Have You No Shame, President Obama?"):

With just eight days left in his administration, President Obama has found one more way to frustrate the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people and provide yet another shameful concession to the Castro regime.  Under President Obama's misguided view, after having removed the Castro regime from the state sponsor of terror list and granting diplomatic recognition, the next logical step is denying oppressed Cubans the presumption of political asylum. 

Since 1966, the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act has provided a lifeline to generations of Cubans fleeing oppression.  Many made the treacherous journey to begin their lives anew in freedom, and others perished trying to escape.  In addition, the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program provided a way for doctors forced to work under inhumane conditions for paltry salaries in foreign lands to escape their servitude.

President Obama's policy toward the Castro regime has not improved human rights or increased liberty on the island.  To the contrary, documented political arrests reached close to 10,000 in 2016 as renowned activists such as Berta Soler, Danilo Maldonado Machado "El Sexto," and labor activists including Ivan Carrillo Hernandez suffered brutal arrests just in the past few weeks.  El Sexto remains in prison today and his American lawyer, Kim Motley, was harassed and interrogated while in Cuba simply for representing him.  Cubans are leaving the island in record numbers, and many of the 53 who were released as part of the Obama-Castro deal were subsequently rearrested.

President Obama's numerous concessions and extension of diplomatic recognition to the murderous Castro regime does not constitute an achievement.  To the contrary, his policy has been a succession of betrayals of America's longstanding commitment to human rights and freedom, and a betrayal of the Cuban people who have suffered under oppression for far too long.  This last act of diminishing lifelines to Cubans languishing in totalitarianism is one final despicable betrayal of a people who deserve better from an American president.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami:

Castro uses refugees as pawns to get more concessions from Washington so there is no reason to do away with the Cuban medical doctor program, which is a foolhardy concession to a regime that sends its doctors to foreign nations in a modern-day indentured servitude. The repeal of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program was done because that's what the Cuban dictatorship wanted and the White House caved to what Castro wants, instead of standing up for U.S. democratic values and seeking the return of fugitives from U.S. justice like Joanne Chesimard or seeking compensation for U.S. citizens for their confiscated properties. In another bad deal by the Obama administration, it has traded wet foot/dry foot for the elimination of an important program which was undermining the Castro regime by providing an outlet for Cuban doctors to seek freedom from forced labor which only benefits an oppressive regime.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa:

The end of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy should be followed by congressional action to lift the outdated economic embargo and improve economic conditions for everyday Cubans.  This is an important step in normalizing our relationship and America must do everything to lift small business entrepreneurs and create opportunities on both sides of the Florida Straits.  We must continue to leave the Cold War policies behind and build new bridges for jobs and economic opportunities for both nations.

I have witnessed how the “wet foot, dry foot” policy created an uneven playing field for immigrants from other Caribbean nations who are also seeking the opportunity to pursue the American dream.    I have also seen Cubans who try to come here for short term visits to see family members negatively affected by “wet foot/dry foot.”  The change in policy today will help ensure that we can have safer and more orderly migration with all of our Caribbean neighbors.

--with Alex Leary

Photo credit: Associated Press