November 19, 2015

Miami congressman presses Obama on Cuban migrant surge


A surge of Cuban migrants, many of them trying to trek to the U.S. through Central America and Mexico, has prompted U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo to send President Barack Obama a letter asking him to take up the matter.

The Miami Republican wrote the president Thursday, requesting details on the White House's plans -- if there are any -- to manage the Cuban influx and coordinate with Mexican and Central American authorities.

"It is now clear that many Cubans are responding to the idea of a normal relationship between their oppressors and the United States with fear and desperation, leading many of them to risk their safety and their lives to escape the prison that is Castro's Cuba. I am concerned about what that means for my community in South Florida," wrote Curbelo, who is Cuban-American and represents a district that extends from Westchester to Key West. 

In an effort to stop Cuban migrants from as far south as Ecuador from heading north, Nicaragua shut down its border with Costa Rica on Sunday, leaving a couple thousand Cubans stranded. More than 45,000 Cubans arrived at U.S. checkpoints along the Mexican border in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The U.S. Coast Guard has also reported an increase in Cuban rafters intercepted at sea compared to 2014.

Read Curbelo's letter: here.

November 10, 2015

Marco Rubio formally opposes ambassadorship for Roberta Jacobson


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio doesn't want Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state who negotiated the reestablishment of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations, to serve as ambassador to Mexico.

He formally announced his opposition in a statement from his Senate office Tuesday, ahead of a Senate Foreign Relations committee vote that moved along her nomination. Rubio, who heads a Western Hemisphere subcommittee, was in Milwaukee preparing for the evening's presidential debate, but senators can vote by proxy at committees. Rubio was in the minority, voting no.

Here's his statement:

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November 05, 2015

Ben Carson brushes up on wet-foot, dry-foot: 'It doesn't make sense to me'

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A day after getting caught off guard by questions about U.S.-Cuba policy, Ben Carson visited Miami and questioned the practice of allowing Cubans who reach U.S. soil to remain in the country but returning to the island Cubans intercepted at sea.

“It doesn’t make sense to me, quite frankly, the whole wet-foot, dry-foot thing, doesn’t make sense to me because, like I said, you catch them a mile [away], you treat them differently than if you’re on the shore,” Carson told reporters in a break from signing copies of his latest book at a West Kendall Barnes & Noble.

The next part of the Republican presidential candidate’s answer seemed to conflate wet-foot, dry-foot with the Cuban Adjustment Act, the federal law that allows Cubans to apply for U.S. residency after spending 366 days in the country.

“And also, recognize that many people have taken advantage of that and you know gotten all kinds of benefits that perhaps they don’t deserve,” Carson said. “There are other people who perhaps get denied things that they should have.”

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who has lived in West Palm Beach since 2013, said he “looked into” wet-foot, dry-foot after telling the Miami Herald he was unfamiliar with it in a phone interview Wednesday.

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November 04, 2015

Cuba policy questions stump Ben Carson ahead of Miami book stop

GOP 2016 Carson(2)

@PatriciaMazzei @AmySherman1

Ben Carson has defied the traditional presidential playbook, taking time off from the campaign trail to promote his latest book and sign copies for hundreds of fans, even in Democratic strongholds like Tallahassee.

He heads to more unusual ground in South Florida on Thursday: West Kendall, a Hispanic bastion, and Fort Lauderdale, the seat of the bluest county in Florida. Carson leads hometown candidates Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush in the latest Florida polls, behind only Donald Trump.

"I'm a little different than most of the candidates," Carson the author told the Miami Herald in a phone interview Wednesday. "I'm looking more nationally at everything that's going on across the country."

Before Carson the candidate campaigns to Miami-Dade County's Cuban-American Republicans, though, he might have a little catching up to do.

Carson's national approach means he didn't take a close look ahead of his trip at a key issue in local politics: U.S.-Cuba policy.

In the Herald interview, Carson appeared stumped by questions about the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy, which allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil to remain here, and about the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows Cubans who arrive in the U.S. to apply for legal residency after 366 days. 

He was candid about not being up to speed.

"You're going to have to explain to me exactly what you mean by that," Carson said, asked about wet-foot, dry-foot. "I have to admit that I don't know a great deal about that, and I don't really like to comment until I've had a chance to study the issue from both sides."

On the Cuban Adjustment Act, he gave a similar response: "Again, I've not been briefed fully on what that is."

Continue reading "Cuba policy questions stump Ben Carson ahead of Miami book stop" »

November 01, 2015

David Beckham partner apologizes for tweeting Che Guevara pic from Havana

As his negotiators try to close a stadium deal with the city of Miami, one of David Beckham's most high-profile partners apologized late Sunday night for tweeting  a photo of a Che Guevara tribute during a business trip to Havana. 
"Hola Cuba," Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure posted on his Twitter feed at 4:36 pm Sunday. "Happy to be here in La Havana, Cuba."


Claure, who is Bolivian, included a photo of a massive Guevara sculpture attached to a building's face, highlighting a late Cuban revolutionary reviled in Miami's exile community for his role enforcing discipline under Fidel Castro. It was a photo of Havana's iconic Revolution Square, and the posting drew some harsh reactions from Miami politicians. 
"Somebody tell the guy that Che was a doctrinaire and a cruel executioner; also that it's La Habana," County Commissioner Xavier Suarez wrote in a tweet responding to Claure.
Carlos Curbelo, a Republican congressman representing Miami, later tweeted to Claure: "I wonder what motivated you to tweet out the image of a serial murderer who destroyed so many lives and families."


After 11 p.m., Claure posted a series of tweets explaining the photo. "I am in Cuba for business and I post photos of all my trips," he wrote. "Today I captured an image of Che Guevara in Plaza de la Revolucion." Later, he added: "My intention is not to offend anyone and my sincere apologies if I offended anyone." At 12:53 a.m., Claure tweeted: "I just deleted the picture I posted earlier while traveling in Cuba. My sincere apologies if I offended anyone. No harm intended." 


No city's political leadership has as much ill will toward the recent Cuba rapprochement as Miami's does. 

Claure's Cuba trip comes at a dicey time for Beckham's stadium chase. His team is wrapping up talks with Miami to obtain city land for a stadium next to Marlins Park, and recently launched negotiations with the county school system to own the venue in order to shield it from property taxes. 
Support of the Cuban community could be decisive for a planned city referendum next spring on the stadium plan. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado has been a notable hard-liner toward Cuban relations, saying it would be unwise for Cuba to pursue a consulate for the city. 

 The situation prompted Beckham's soccer negotiators to issue a statement at 11:26 p.m. Sunday that said: "Marcelo is in Cuba for business reasons unrelated to [Miami Beckham United, the name of the soccer venture] and may be posting photos around the island during his trip. He arrived in Havana today and captured an image of one of the City's more  prominent sites. We apologize on his behalf if anyone was offended by the image."

October 13, 2015

Survey: Floridians remained financially stressed; and most support diplomacy with Cuba

Florida voters remain financially stressed but don’t think they’re being overtaxed and are supportive of resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, according to the latest USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey released Tuesday. 

The wide-ranging survey conducted July 30 through Aug. 16 found that 71 percent of all Floridians continue to feel the effects of the Great Recession and identify the economy and jobs as the issue that remains most important to them.  Download Sunshine State Survey 2015 2

But, in the second installment of the survey of 1,251 random adults, people identified the biggest threats to the state economy as loss of jobs, government waste and inefficiency – at both the state and local level – and undocumented residents and workers.

“What this release shows is that Floridians are still stressed economically,’’ said University of South Florida public affairs professor Susan MacManus, who directed the survey. “They are very much still looking somewhat judgmentally, and in a negative fashion, toward state and local leadership. And they are hopeful for attention to transportation and infrastructure.” 

Most people pointed to either investing in education and training or improving the state’s infrastructure – each with 23 percent – as the best way to improve the state’s job climate. Only 15 percent pointed to cutting or limiting taxes and regulations.

The survey shows that support for improving the state’s infrastructure, especially transportation, increased from 17 percent in 2014 to 23 percent this year, while support for cutting or limiting taxes and regulations dropped from 21 percent in 2014 to 15 percent in 2015.

"Along with population growth comes more congestion and longer commutes—which is at least a partial explanation for growing support for infrastructure improvements,'' she said. 

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October 01, 2015

Hillary Clinton emails reveal aide exchanges about Marco Rubio, with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


via @learyreports

High ranking aides to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton feared Sen. Marco Rubio would hold up a nominee in retaliation for the proposed Obama administration's prisoner exchange with Cuba in 2011.

A statement Rubio issued went up the chain of command to Clinton, now of course a presidential rival of Rubio’s.

“Rubio statement re negotiations around Alan Gross,” an aide wrote in a October 2011 email to Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff. “In expressing his frustration, he alludes that he’ll take it out on Roberta during the confirmation process.”

Rubio did put a hold on Roberta Jacobson from being confirmed as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, but cited a different issue. Rubio dropped the hold in March 2012 but Obama got his exchange in 2014.

It’s not unusual that Clinton and her team would monitor issues related to Foggy Bottom. The Rubio mention was among Clinton emails made public on Wednesday, part of the massive disclosure of her private email server.

Another email Clinton got, in March 2011, was a copy of a Haiti-related article in Miami Herald quoting Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami.

Ros-Lehtinen, who had been chair of the House Foreign Affairs committee, emailed Mills in January 2011 to nail down a trip to Haiti.

“I’m good to go! Ily,” the lawmaker wrote.

“Can’t wait - we will take good care of  you,” Mills wrote.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

September 29, 2015

What President Obama discussed with Raúl Castro


From the White House:

President Obama met today with President Raul Castro of Cuba to discuss recent advances in relations between the United States and Cuba, as well as additional steps each government can take to deepen bilateral cooperation. The two Presidents discussed the recent successful visit of Pope Francis to both countries.  President Obama highlighted U.S. regulatory changes that will allow more Americans to travel to and do business with Cuba, while helping to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  The President welcomed the progress made in establishing diplomatic relations, and underscored that continued reforms in Cuba would increase the impact of U.S. regulatory changes.  The President also highlighted steps the United States intends to take to improve ties between the American and Cuban peoples, and reiterated our support for human rights in Cuba.

September 21, 2015

A dose of politics along with Pope Francis on Cuban TV

Cuba Pope (1)@PatriciaMazzei

HOLGUIN, Cuba -- Watch enough Cuban state-run television on a regular day, and the revolution-speak is impossible to escape.

Solidaridad. Explotación. Bloqueo. Solidarity. Exploitation. Embargo.

Watch during special coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the island, and the language doesn’t change. The pundits just manage to apply it to the Holy Father.

Thousands of people waving to Francis as he rides on the Pope Mobile? A sign of “the solidarity of the Cuban people,” an interviewer explains.

Francis’ upbringing in Argentina? A formative experience growing up in “dictatorship” and under "neoliberalism,” says a news anchor.

His trip to the U.S. after four days in Cuba? “I’m sure he’ll also advocate against the embargo,” predicts a man described as an “intellectual.”

Cuban television offered wall-to-wall coverage Saturday and Sunday of Francis’ visit to Havana, with four channels (at least on hotel televisions viewed by foreign reporters in Holguín, where the pope will travel Monday) broadcasting the program. A fifth, Venezuela-based TeleSur, had its own anchors and commentators.

All praised the pontiff. But politics weren’t far behind.

More here.

Photo credit: Eduardo Verdugo, Associated Press

ead more here:

September 18, 2015

Obama administration plans new rules to expand U.S. business in Cuba

via @CAdamsMcClatchy

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is working to finalize a change in U.S.-Cuba trade rules that experts called a major development that would significantly open the door to expanded business on the island.

The regulation has not yet been released, although a 27-page document, dated Sept. 7 and marked to be reviewed by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, was provided to McClatchy.

It couldn’t be determined if the version that is ultimately released will match the Sept. 7 version. The Department of Commerce didn’t respond to a request for comment about it.

As indicated in the document, the rules could amend existing ones to boost engagement between American and Cuban people, accelerate the free flow of information to and from Cubans, and ramp up independent economic activity generated by Cubans.

In many ways, the rule would merely be a continuation of the process begun Dec. 17, when President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. was seeking to thaw the five-decade freeze in its relations with the island nation 90 miles from Florida.

After that momentous December announcement, the Commerce and Treasury departments in January took steps to put in place parts of the president’s policy. The new rules, which could be announced as early as Friday, could amend the terms of existing license exceptions available for Cuba, create new licensing policies, and take other steps to further promote economic activity in Cuba.

More here.