September 17, 2015

Marco Rubio would like to fly Air Force One to 'a free Cuba'

GOP 2016 Debate


A tidbit from Wednesday night's Republican primary debate:

MODERATOR JAKE TAPPER: OK, here's the more serious question, Ronald Reagan, the 40th President, used the plane behind you to accomplish a great many things. Perhaps, most notably, to challenge Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the wall, and ultimately, to make peace with the USSR.

How will the world look different once your Air Force One is parked in the hangar of your presidential library?

MARCO RUBIO: One of the things that made Ronald Reagan a great president, is that he understood that America was a unique nation, like any other that had existed throughout human history. He knew it was founded on universal principles that were powerful, the dignity of all people, human rights, the rights of all to live in freedom and liberty, and choose their own path in life. He didn't just believe it, he acted on it. That's why bringing down communism was so important to him. If I'm honored with the opportunity to be president, I hope that our Air Force One will fly, first and foremost, to our allies; in Israel, in South Korea, and Japan. They know we stand with them. That America can be counted on. 

It would also fly to China, not just to meet with our enemies, not just to meet with those adversaries of ours that are there, but also to meet with those that aspire to freedom and liberty within China. I would even invite them to my inauguration. 

We would also fly into Moscow and into Russia. And not just meet with the leaders of Russia, but also meet with those who aspire to freedom and liberty in Russia. And ultimately, I hope that my Air Force One, if I become president, will one day land in a free Cuba, where its people can choose its leaders and its own destiny. 

Photo credit: Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

September 10, 2015

U.S., Cuba to hold normalization session Friday in Havana

via @HeraldMimi

The United States and Cuba will hold the first session of their new bilateral commission on normalization issues in Havana on Friday, the U.S. State Department said.

U.S. Secretary John Kerry and Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez announced creation of the commission following a meeting on Aug. 14 — the day the U.S. flag was raised outside the U.S. Embassy in Havana for the first time in 54 years. It’s expected to serve as a steering committee in the rapprochement process and hold regularly scheduled meetings.

The United States plans to send a small delegation headed by Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Alex Lee. The U.S. delegation also will include David McKean, director of the secretary’s policy planning staff. Charge d’affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis will head the team from the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s director general for the United States and the chief Cuban negotiator in the talks that led to reestablishment of diplomatic relations, will head the Cuban delegation.

More here.

September 08, 2015

Once upon a time, Cuban exiles in Miami declared, '¡Viva Donald Trump!'



Visiting Cuban Americans in Miami a decade and a half ago, Donald Trump declared Fidel Castro a “killer” and a “criminal” who shouldn’t be “rewarded.”

Now he has come up in support, albeit a little tepid, of President Barack Obama’s push for closer ties between the U.S. and Cuba — a policy Trump characterized as “fine.”

In an interview published Monday, Trump briefly responded to a single question on his thoughts on the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations: “Do you think that is a good policy, or do you oppose America’s opening with Cuba?”asked the Daily Caller, a conservative-leaning Washington, D.C., publication.

“I think it’s fine,” Trump said. “I think it’s fine, but we should have made a better deal. The concept of opening with Cuba —50 years is enough — the concept of opening with Cuba is fine. I think we should have made a stronger deal.”

There was no follow-up question in the published interview. Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request from the Miami Herald for further details.

The 2016 Republican presidential front-runner is only the second GOP contender to endorse the Obama Cuba policy, after Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Miami’s two hometown candidates, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, have been among its loudest critics. So has Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is Cuban-American as is Rubio.

More here.

Photo credit: Tim Chapman, Miami Herald file

This post has been updated.

Donald Trump: New Cuba policy is 'fine,' but U.S. needed 'stronger deal'

From a Daily Caller interview with Donald Trump

TheDC: What do you think of the opening with Cuba? Do you think that is a good policy, or do you oppose America’s opening with Cuba?

Trump: I think it’s fine. I think it’s fine, but we should have made a better deal. The concept of opening with Cuba — 50 years is enough — the concept of opening with Cuba is fine. I think we should have made a stronger deal.

September 02, 2015

Hillary Clinton emails reveal how Diana Nyad got clearance to swim from Cuba

via @kaufsports

In 7,000 pages of Hillary Clinton emails released by the State Department, amid a trove of notes on Middle East policy and gefilte fish and the TV show Parks and Recreation, is an exchange involving South Florida and Cuba ties.

Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, attempting a 103-mile Cuba-to-Key West swim at age 60 in the summer of 2010, reached out to then-Secretary of State Clinton in a “desperate plea’’ to help her get her expedition cleared by the U.S. State Department so that she could begin the swim on Cuban soil.

On July 4, 2010, Clinton received an email on Nyad’s behalf from Hilary Rosen, a political pundit and Democratic lobbyist. In the memo line: “A unique request for your help from Hilary Rosen.’’

The note went on to explain that Nyad needed help to get clearance for her swim. “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think taking it to your level is the only way to get it done,’’ Rosen wrote. “Thanks so much in advance for looking into this. I know it is a busy month for you. You are just the best!!!’’

Rosen attached emails that Nyad had written to her and to South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz seeking help. They read: “It’s not that I’ve been flat turned down by the State Dept. But I have been told I won’t be approved this summer … warm water, my training, all of it…there’s no other time I can or will do it.

“…I have been told by lawyers within the Treasury that it will take either Hilary (sic) Clinton or Obama himself to clear my event. I know somebody has the power to green light in an hour’s time, if I can just get to the right person. … I just can’t let this dream slip away because I can’t get into Cuba with State Dept. approval.’’

More here.

August 14, 2015

Jeb Bush: U.S. embassy opening in Havana is 'birthday present' to Fidel Castro


On Thursday, Fidel Castro turned 89. On Friday, the U.S. will reopen its embassy in Havana. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, an honorary Cuban American, said raising the stars and stripes in Cuba amounts to a present to the Cuban revolutionary.

The other Miamian seeking the 2016 GOP nomination, Cuban-American Marco Rubio, delivered a speech in New York on Friday morning pledging to roll back President Obama's Cuba policy, which Rubio referred to as "concessions." "We're going to open up to Cuba, but Cuba's not going to open up to us," Rubio said later on Fox News.

Here's Bush's statement:

Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Havana is a birthday present for Fidel Castro – a symbol of the Obama Administration’s acquiescence to his ruthless legacy.  U.S. policy has changed, but Cuba has not.  It remains an unyielding dictatorship, a tragic example of the folly of communism, and an affront to the conscience of the free nations of the Western Hemisphere.

The accommodation of the Castro regime comes at the expense of the freedom and democracy that all Cubans deserve, but Secretary Kerry’s visit is especially insulting for Cuba’s dissidents. That courageous Cubans whose only crime is to speak out for freedom and democracy will be kept away from the official ceremony opening the U.S. Embassy is yet another concession to the Castros.

We need an American president who will work in solidarity with a free Cuban people, if I am elected President, I will reverse Obama’s strategy of accommodation and appeasement and commit to helping the Cuban people claim their freedom and determine their future, free from tyranny.  Standing up for fundamental human rights and democratic values should not be an afterthought to America’s Cuba policy, it should be its guiding principle.

Marco Rubio to denounce 'dangerous' Cuba, Iran deals in Friday speech

via @lesleyclark

Marco Rubio will mark the U.S. flag being raised in Havana for the first time in more than 50 years with a speech in New York, assailing President Barack Obama for making "dangerous deals" with Cuba and Iran.

The Republican presidential candidate, who will appear Friday morning at an event hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative, will announce that if elected president he'd invite dissidents of repressed countries from across the world, including Cuba, Iran and China "to be honored guests at my inauguration."

His remarks come as Secretary of State John Kerry is to raise the U.S. flag at the embassy in Havana and Rubio will charge that Obama "has been quick to deal with the oppressors, but slow to deal with the oppressed." Cuban dissidents won’t be attending the flag-raising in Havana, but Kerry will meet with them later in the afternoon at a smaller event.

According to excerpts of his speech released in advance, the Florida Republican senator will say that he believes Obama's push for a nuclear deal with Iran and his outreach to the Cuban government in Havana "represent the convergence of nearly every flawed strategic, moral, and economic notion" of his foreign policy.

He will say the two deals demonstrate that the administration “has placed politics before policy, adversaries before allies, and legacy before leadership.”

Rubio is to say that as president, he'd tell the ruling Castro brothers that the diplomatic overtures would be erased unless they carry out "meaningful political and human rights reforms." And he will say he'd restore Cuba to the state sponsor of terror list and provide support to Cuba’s pro-democracy movement.

The speech also comes as the Obama administration seeks to ramp up support for an agreement aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Rubio, who opposes the deal, will say that a President Rubio would reimpose sanctions on Iran and ask Congress to pass "crushing new measures that target human rights abusers and Iran’s leaders involved in financing and overseeing Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism."

Rubio is also to say that he’d end the defense sequester and position forces in the Middle East "to signal readiness and restore a credible military option." He will also say he'd also link any nuclear weapons talks to Iran’s "broader conduct, from human rights abuses to support for terrorism and threats against Israel."

--LESLEY CLARK, McClatchy Washington Bureau

August 13, 2015

Marco Rubio wants paper trail on trafficking report that upgraded Cuba's status


The U.S. upgraded Cuba in a human-trafficking report last month, drawing the ire of Cuban-American lawmakers who suspected the move was driven by politics rather than a real improvement on the island.

Now Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, wants Secretary of State John Kerry to turn over the drafts of the report, the names of who in his department signed off and a copy of Cuba's plan to combat trafficking -- all because Rubio thinks the report was "politicized."

"The decision to upgrade Cuba without substantial evidence of improvement is the worst form of politicization of an important anti-trafficking tool," Rubio wrote Kerry on Thursday. "Cuba is a human slave state."

Read the full text of his letter below.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio wants paper trail on trafficking report that upgraded Cuba's status" »

Florida politicians react to U.S. embassy opening in Havana


South Florida Republicans in particular are upset about the Obama administration's planned opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana Friday. We'll update this post with statements as we get them.

(We posted separate blog items about a Marco Rubio speech, and about a Jeb Bush statement.)

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

John Kerry's presence in Havana on his global capitulation tour is yet another example of the Obama administration’s d’esire to pursue deals at any cost. While the Castro brothers will roll out the red carpet for Secretary Kerry, the people of Cuba will continue to be met with violence and detentions. While Secretary Kerry just changes the sign on the door at our post, he purposefully forgets that the Castro regime tries to prevent the people of Cuba from even reaching our building.  While political prisoners languish in Castro’s gulags, Secretary Kerry will be shaking hands with their oppressor. The arrest of more than 100 pro-democracy leaders just days before Kerry’s visit should provide proof enough that the Castro regime has no intention of changing, so why should our policies change?

From a dangerous Iran deal to being weak against North Korea to giving in to the demands of the Castro brothers, this administration has demonstrated it imposes no moral bar to negotiating with tyrannical regimes. It is a shame we continue to give away so much in exchange for nothing since the White House was unable to ensure democratic freedoms for the people of Cuba, the return of fugitives from American justice, or compensation for illegally confiscated properties. Our country stands for so much more than the pittance it has accepted from the Castro regime.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, 2016 Republican U.S. Senate

The Obama Administration’s refusal to invite pro-democracy leaders to Friday’s U.S. Embassy ceremony in Havana is a shameful embarrassment that emboldens Castro's repressive regime. Once again, it demonstrates that President Obama is committed to a policy that allows the Castros to dictate the terms and conditions of their relationship with the U.S., to the detriment of the Cuban people’s right to freedom and self-determination.

During his visit to the enslaved island of Cuba, I call on Secretary Kerry to demand the dictatorship immediately release all political prisoners and end the repeated violence against peaceful pro-democracy leaders. Because the Obama Administration has decided to proceed with normalization while disregarding the clear evidence of increased brutality against peaceful dissidents, President Obama now bears the responsibility for the violence that will continue to be inflicted upon the Cuban people.

Continue reading "Florida politicians react to U.S. embassy opening in Havana" »

August 12, 2015

Marco Rubio blasts U.S. for not inviting dissidents to Cuba embassy opening


The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Obama administration doesn't plan to invite Cuban dissidents to attend the U.S. embassy opening ceremony in Havana Friday.

The news gave Republican presidential candidate and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio an opening to once again blast President Obama over his diplomatic thaw with Cuba.

"This is a new low for President Obama and a slap in the face by this administration to Cuba's courageous democracy activists," Rubio said in a statement released by his Senate office. "Cuban dissidents are the legitimate representatives of the Cuban people and it is they who deserve America's red carpet treatment,‎ not Castro regime officials. What a pathetic policy President Obama has embarked on that shuns Cuban dissidents like this, yet has welcomed Castro regime officials to the White House."

Polls show most Americans favor renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba. But most Americans also don't follow the day-to-day Cuba news as Cuban exiles in Miami. For example, when fellow GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush spoke to the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper's editorial board recently, board members seemed shocked to learn about the Cuban government's continued repression of dissidents.

Our colleague Mimi Whitefield reported some dissidents may attend a reception following the embassy flag-raising Friday.

This post has been updated.