July 01, 2015

Obama announces opening of embassies with Cuba

Casting aside more than a half century of hostilities, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba would restore full diplomatic relations and open respective embassies.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, he called the rapprochement “a historic step” in efforts to bring the two countries and their people together. The president said Secretary of State John Kerry would soon travel to Havana to “proudly raise the U.S. flag over our embassy.”

The United States and Cuba held four rounds of talks — two in Havana and two in Washington — to reach agreement on the terms for opening embassies and renewing diplomatic ties after Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro jointly announced on Dec. 17 that the two countries planned to work toward normalization.

He said that since then he was seen “enormous enthusiasm for this new approach.”

Turn to Mimi Whitefield's story from the Miami Herald.

 

 

June 25, 2015

FIU would like to establish Cuba presence, but it's treading carefully

via @EmmaBaccellieri

WASHINGTON -- As Cuba and the United States begin to normalize relations, interest is keen on both sides to strike academic partnerships as well.

But amid the sensitive politics of the U.S-Cuba breakthrough and the gulf between the countries over questions of academic freedom, American colleges and universities must tread carefully.

“Anything with Cuba can be controversial,” said Jorge Duany, director of Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute.

The interest, however, is clearly there.

Some 375 American students were in Cuba during the 2010-11 school year when President Barack Obama eased travel restrictions to allow academic work. During 2012-13, there were 1,633, according to the Institute of International Education.

Obama further loosened the rules earlier this year, allowing more expansive work, and several universities have begun formal research and teaching partnerships with their Cuban counterparts.

Florida International University in Miami-Dade is among the schools that would like to establish a strong Cuban presence. The university hosts one of the nation’s leading centers for Cuban studies, and academic work on the island has long been an attractive prospect.

More here.

June 16, 2015

End Cuban embargo, says TV ad by new advocacy group

@PatriciaMazzei

Engage Cuba, a new advocacy group that, as it name suggests, wants to end U.S. travel and trade restrictions to the island, said Tuesday it's airing a television advertisement pushing its position.

"It's been over 50 years. Isn't it time for a change?" the ad says.

"Public polls show that Americans are saying, 'We are tired of the Cold War-era policy that won't let us trade or travel to Cuba. We want our government to let us play a role in this significant period of transition,'" Engage Cuba President James Williams said in a statement.

The statement also said the spot will air on cable networks Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC.

 

June 03, 2015

Panel of U.S. House Republicans bans funding for U.S. embassy in Havana

@maria_e_recio

WASHINGTON — The White House may be moving quickly to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, but House Republicans are trying to put on the brakes as a key panel voted Wednesday to prohibit funding for a U.S. embassy in Havana.

The vote by the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department and foreign operations does not prevent the department from designating an embassy in Havana.

But it makes it more difficult.

The U.S. already has a building on Havana’s Malecon waterfront that was the embassy until President Dwight D. Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations in 1961.

It is now the home of the U.S. government’s outpost in the communist nation, the Cuban Interests Section. But the building is badly dilapidated, and the State Department told Congress last month that it needs $6.6 million to make improvements for it to function as an embassy.

Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives, among them several Cuban-Americans, fiercely oppose the White House rapprochement with Cuba that began last year and are behind the efforts to block the embassy and appointment of an ambassador.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a member of the funding subcommittee, said that the provision not only prohibits funds for a U.S. embassy but also prohibits support for a Cuban embassy and Cuban consulates in the U.S.

Continue reading "Panel of U.S. House Republicans bans funding for U.S. embassy in Havana" »

June 01, 2015

In letter to administration, Rubio vows to block ambassador to Cuba unless reforms made

@CAdamsMcClatchy

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio vowed to oppose the confirmation of any nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Cuba unless he sees “concrete results” on a set of democratic and human rights issues.

The Republican from West Miami, Fla., who is running for president in a crowded GOP field, wrote Secretary of State John Kerry, laying out his demands.

Rubio has been a leader in Congress in pushing back on the White House’s opening to Cuba, which was announced in December. His comments echoed previous statements on the matter; in February, for example, he noted there are “multiple ways to stop an ambassador nomination, and I reserve the right to use all of them.”

The opening to Cuba is a multi-pronged effort that has already relaxed some travel and financial restrictions, and is quickly moving toward the establishment of a greater diplomatic presence in Havana. It could eventually lead to a full lifting of the trade embargo with the country. The White House can accomplish some steps on its own, while Congress would need to weigh in on other aspects.

As it stands now, the U.S. diplomatic presence in Havana can function without a confirmed ambassador, and some experts on Cuban issues are skeptical the Senate would confirm one, no matter Rubio’s stance.

Rubio’s position, laid out in his letter, address four concerns: the lack of political reforms on the island; the harboring of known terrorists and other fugitives from U.S. justice; the outstanding American property claims and judgments against the Cuban government; and the limitations that continue to be placed on American diplomats working in Havana.

He wrote: “I hope to see a free and democratic Cuba, but that means we must confront the authoritarian Castro regime that suppresses its own people, not acquiesce to their demands.”

May 29, 2015

UPDATED Jeb Bush calls lifting Cuba terror designation a 'mistake,' Marco Rubio says it's a 'giveaway'

@PatriciaMazzei

Jeb Bush, who last week basked in the hometown embrace of Miami Cuban-American hard-liners, stayed loyal to their cause Friday when he again denounced the Obama administration for removing Cuba from a list of terrorism sponsors.

"Neither continued repression at home nor Cuba's destabilizing activities abroad appear sufficient to stop President Obama from making further concessions to the Communist regime in Havana," Bush said in a statement. "Today's news is further evidence that President Obama seems more interested in capitulating to our adversaries than in confronting them. Iran's leaders are surely taking note."

He went further, referring to the action as a "mistake":

"The removal of Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List and the unilateral concessions to Havana, before it changes its authoritarian ways and stops denying the Cuban people their basic human rights, is a mistake," Bush said. "I call on Congress to keep pressure on Cuba and hold the Administration accountable."

Bush had taken a similar stance when lifting the designation was first announced. Congress had 45 days to try to block it but didn't try to do so. The change is effective as of Friday.

Sen. Marco Rubio, the other 2016 Republican presidential hopeful from Miami, has called the decision "terrible."

UPDATE: Here's video of Rubio from Friday criticizing the decision as a "giveaway":

 

Miami's three Cuban-American Republicans in Congress -- Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- also slammed the change in statements Friday. Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen have endorsed Bush, and Curbelo also seems likely to do so once Bush formalizes his candidacy.

Continue reading "UPDATED Jeb Bush calls lifting Cuba terror designation a 'mistake,' Marco Rubio says it's a 'giveaway'" »

May 28, 2015

In gesture to Cuban Americans, Obama visits Our Lady of Charity shrine in Miami

@PatriciaMazzei

President Barack Obama extended a symbolic olive branch Thursday to Miami’s Cuban Americans by paying his respects to the shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Coconut Grove.

Earlier in the day, Obama visited the National Hurricane Center and met privately with the Pinecrest family of Steven Sotloff, the journalist slain last year by the Islamic State, to offer condolences.

The surprise afternoon stop at the shrine by the sea, better known by its Spanish name, La Ermita de la Caridad, comes at a time when many Cuban exiles remain miffed by the president’s decision last December to restore diplomatic relations with the communist island, especially since Obama made no effort to reach out to Miami leaders prior to his announcement.

Obama is the first president to pay his respects to the shrine, according to the Archdiocese of Miami. It’s named after the patroness saint of Cuba.

Hola,” he told 13 worshipers seated in the church pews when he walked in. The Rev. Juan Rumin Dominguez guided the president, along with Cristina Brito, who served as interpreter.

More here.

This post has been updated.

May 27, 2015

Politico: Was that Barack Obama strolling through streets of Havana? LOL

Politico called it "Faux-bama's" tour of Havana.

See for yourself in this photo gallery of Cuban performance artist René Francisco Rodríguez, who last week was seen walking the streets and sipping mojitos in bars dressed as the U.S. president. According to The Telegraph, Rodríguez decided to dress like Obama and record the reaction he received as part of an art performance.

May 20, 2015

Marco Rubio pens Miami Herald op-ed on Cuban independence day

From Wednesday's Miami Herald:

As we mark Cuban Independence Day this Wednesday, we must never forget that the only true form of independence for the Cuban people is freedom and democracy, and we must recommit our state and nation to the goal of helping them achieve that vital objective.

I am the proud son of Cuban-American parents and was raised in a community of Cuban exiles. The trajectory of my life has been a product of their support, of true freedom, and of a uniquely American ideal: that where you come from does not determine where you can go or who you can be. Yet just 90 miles from the shores of our nation are men and women of my ancestry and heritage who still do not have freedom. Yet they look to this country for the hope that they someday will.

I believe we must not fail them. In the last decade and a half, every single country in the Western Hemisphere has had a free and fair election at some point except for one: Cuba. The United States has always stood on the side of peoples around the world who yearn for freedom. But today, our president has decided to take a different approach. Not only has he forsaken our duty to advocate for oppressed peoples, but he has traveled many miles in the opposite direction: going so far as to pay homage to the whims of the very dictatorial regime that denies the freedom of the Cuban people.

More here.

May 19, 2015

How Marco Rubio tells the Elián González story

via @learyreports

Elián González is back in the news, giving an exclusive interview to ABC News and saying he’d like to visit Miami. “I want to take the time to thank the American people for their love,” said Gonzalez, now 21.

Marco Rubio practically watched the infamous raid go down in April 2000, and writes about it in his memoir An American Son.

Rubio was up at 4 a.m. that day due to the cries of his daughter, Amanda. “After I fed her and she had fallen back asleep, I decided to go by the house in Little Havana where Elian was staying. I expected something could happen that morning, and I wanted to be there to see it," he wrote.

He made the short drive through quiet streets and saw a police car blocking an intersection. “Seconds later several vans sped past me toward the house. I waited in my car at the intersection, and a few minutes later, the same vans sped by me again traveling in the opposite direction. I parked my car and sprinted the three blocks to the house. Hundreds of people were wandering around in disbelief, many of them coughing and looking for a hose to wash pepper spray off their faces. Media trucks and camera crews were everywhere.”

Continue reading "How Marco Rubio tells the Elián González story" »