January 07, 2016

Marco Rubio plans to file Senate companion bill to end automatic federal benefits for Cubans

@PatriciaMazzei

Marco Rubio will return to Washington on Tuesday to file legislation in the U.S. Senate to end automatic federal benefits for Cuban immigrants.

Rubio let the news slip Thursday at a presidential campaign event in Bedford, New Hampshire, NBC News reported. The Florida senator later confirmed his plans to Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 in an interview.

"We have people living in Cuba off Social Security benefits. They never worked here," Rubio said at the house party in the town of Bedford. "This is an outrageous abuse, and I have a law that we are going to introduce this week that shuts down this issue. It's wrong."

Rubio's bill would be a Senate companion to legislation filed last month in the House by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican (who, incidentally, supports Rubio rival Jeb Bush).

Curbelo's proposal wouldn't touch the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which allows Cubans to apply for U.S. residency after a year and a day in the country. But it would stop automatic federal benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid for Cubans, who under existing law are treated as refugees even without formal refugee status.

Rubio reiterated in New Hampshire that the Cuban Adjustment Act should be reviewed, a position he has advocated in the past as Cuban immigration has shifted from people fleeing political persecution to those seeking a better economy.

Miami-Dade pursuing ferry service to Cuba from PortMiami

@doug_hanks @newsbysmiley

The largely undeveloped plot of land at PortMiami where David Beckham once wanted a soccer stadium is poised to test just how much the politics of Cuba have changed in Miami. County officials want to transform the waterfront property into a bustling terminal for ferries running between Miami and Cuba.

The initiative could position Miami as the prime jumping-off point for a fledgling ferry industry that hopes to provide affordable travel and shipping between the longtime enemies. And it marks a milestone for the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez, which until now has not openly pursued economic opportunities with a country whose outlaw status has long been an axiom of local politics.

“We need to be prepared for when the situation is here, when the business is ready to launch,” port director Juan Kuryla said Wednesday. “We anticipate it’s going to be a flourishing business here in Miami.”

PortMiami isn’t the only Florida port interested in Cuba ferry service amid a dramatic warming of diplomacy and expansion of commerce between the U.S. and Cuba. Ferry companies also have talked about launching Florida-Cuba ferries from Key West, Port Everglades and Port Manatee on Florida’s west coast.

A new terminal for Cuba-bound ferries would go on the port’s southwest corner, a waterfront wedge of largely undeveloped land that overlooks downtown Miami and lately has been one of the most controversial pieces of county real estate.

More here

December 28, 2015

Cubans stranded in Costa Rica shouldn't get 'free entry' into U.S., Jeb Bush says

@PatriciaMazzei

Costa Rica has moved to deport 56 Cuban migrants stranded along its border on their way to the U.S.

That's a local issue in heavily Cuban-American Miami-Dade County -- which means Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was asked about the issue by a Spanish-language reporter after his Hialeah campaign rally Monday.

"The rule of law must be respected," Bush said. "I don't know their exact condition there, but they don't have -- they shouldn't have, and I don't think they do have -- free entry into this country. We have to have an immigration system based on the law, and if those laws don't work, to change the law."

Bush was also asked about U.S. plans to step up deportations of immigrants in the country illegally, beginning in January.

He gave a similar answer.

"This has to be resolved lawfully," the former Florida governor said. "Congress must pass immigration reform. When I'm president that's exactly what I'm going to do. President Obama has had seven years to work with Congress. He hasn't done it. He wants to have this as part of a political plan to win votes."

December 20, 2015

Businessmen write ‘open letter’ urging fellow Cuban Americans to embrace U.S. policy changes

@PatriciaMazzei

Earlier this month, nearly a year to the day President Barack Obama shocked Cuban Americans with the news that the U.S. would reestablish relations with the Castro regime, a group of Cuban-American business people, almost all from Miami, quietly traveled to the island to see for themselves what, if anything, had changed.

Most of the 10 men — even a couple of otherwise staunch conservatives — returned convinced that stronger ties to the U.S. would help Cubans. They published a full-page advertisement in Sunday’s Miami Herald urging others to join their cause. Its title: “An Open Letter to Our Fellow Cuban-Americans.”

“We saw progress beyond what we could have imagined,” they wrote. “We saw entrepreneurs with a thirst for knowledge and families benefiting from the newfound freedom of enterprise. It is these ‘everyday’ people who are leading the way to an improved life but not without challenges.”

Without calling for an outright end to the U.S. trade embargo, which can only be lifted by Congress, they denounced it as ineffective: “As fellow Cuban-Americans, let us recognize the progress that has been made on both sides of the 90-mile Florida Straits, albeit halting, in the right direction. Just consider what has been accomplished in the last 12 months versus what has been accomplished in the last century.”

“We have arrived at the point in our lives where we have no interest in personal advancement, but only in what would be good for ‘nuestra gente,’” our people, they maintained.

Two Republicans who led the travel group paid for the ad: Carlos Gutierrez, the U.S. commerce secretary under former President George W. Bush, and Mike Fernandez, the Coral Gables healthcare magnate and top financial backer of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign.

More here.

December 17, 2015

Poll: Majority of Cuban Americans support lifting U.S. embargo

via @glenngarvin

Cuban Americans around the United States, at first wary of President Barack Obama’s recognition of the Castro government, now strongly support it. And for the first time an absolute majority support lifting the U.S. embargo against the island, according to a new opinion poll released Thursday.

But while generally favorable toward the president’s Cuban policy, they clearly draw a line at an Obama visit to Cuba, which they oppose.

“This is the first time we’ve seen majority support for ending the embargo,” said Fernand Amandi, managing partner of the Miami polling company Bendixen & Amandi International, which has been asking Cuban Americans about the embargo for years.

“It’s a slight majority — 53 percent — but it’s a majority,” he said.

The poll — of 400 Cuban Americans around the United States, taken this week, with a plus or minus 4.9 percent margin of error — shows an exile community that, though sharply divided along generational lines, has moved steadily toward Obama’s decision to end the political and economic freeze-out of Cuba.

Obama moved to extend diplomatic recognition of the Cuban government a year ago, after more than five decades of estrangement, and last week started negotiations for the first time on property claims against one another.

A Bendixen & Armandi poll taken just after Obama’s announcement last year showed 48 percent of Cuban Americans opposed diplomatic recognition of the Castro government, and only 44 percent supported it, with the rest undecided.

More here.

Obama: 'Important steps' taken in past year between U.S., Cuba

From the White House:

One year ago, I announced that after more than 50 years, America would change its relationship with Cuba and put the interests of the people of both countries before the outdated ways of the past. Since then, we have taken important steps forward to normalize relations between our countries—re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening embassies; facilitating greater travel and commerce; connecting more Americans and Cubans; and promoting the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba. We are advancing our shared interests and working together on complex issues that for too long defined—and divided—us. Meanwhile, the United States is in a stronger position to engage the people and governments of our hemisphere.Congress can support a better life for the Cuban people by lifting an embargo that is a legacy of a failed policy.

Today, the Stars and Stripes again fly over our Embassy in Havana. Today, more Americans are visiting Cuba and engaging the Cuban people than at any time in the last 50 years. We continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but we raise those issues directly, and we will always stand for human rights and the universal values that we support around the globe. Change does not happen overnight, and normalization will be a long journey. The last 12 months, however, are a reminder of the progress we can make when we set the course toward a better future. Over the next year, we will continue on this path, empowering Cubans and Americans to lead the way.

Miami Republicans slam U.S.-Cuba policy, a year after change

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami's Cuban-American Republicans in Congress used Thursday's one-year anniversary of renewed U.S.-Cuba relations to bash President Obama's policies.

In a statement, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called the change a "sham." In an op-ed published on Medium, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart noted that "Cubans are departing Cuba in record numbers." And in a news release styled as an email tipsheet, presidential candidate and Sen. Marco Rubio decried a Cuban "chokehold on freedom."

Here's Rubio's statement:

The first year of President Obama's Cuba policy has been like the rest of his foreign policy: a disaster that prioritizes legacy-shaping headlines over freedom and results, treats our enemies far better than our allies, and negotiates deals from a position of weakness -– as if we are ashamed of our moral obligations as the world’s most powerful nation. Because of President Obama's Cuba policy, the U.S. has never been closer to the tyrants that rule the island or more alienated from the Cuban people working tirelessly to build a free and democratic future. Because of President Obama's weakness in negotiating with the Castro regime, cop killers, terrorists and other fugitives from U.S. justice continue to enjoy greater freedoms in Cuba than average Cubans who are experiencing a historically relentless wave of repression and political arrests this year.

American businesses have placed a risky bet to enrich themselves and, in the process, enrich the Cuban military that actually controls the economy. The next U.S. president should end the many concessions this one has made to the regime, and send a clear message that betting against the Cuban people's free and democratic future is a losing bet. With a year to go, President Obama can still inflict a lot of damage that further sets back the cause of a free and democratic Cuba, but those who care about freedom and the fate of the Cuban people will continue to fight him at every turn.

Here's Ros-Lehtinen's statement:

Continue reading "Miami Republicans slam U.S.-Cuba policy, a year after change" »

A year of change in U.S.-Cuba relations

via @HeraldMimi

In the year since the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement began, some things have seemed to move at warp speed, but others have smacked into the reality that the two former Cold War enemies still have two very different systems and have barely talked to each other in five decades.

There have been important symbolic changes. An American flag now waves over a U.S. Embassy in Havana, and a Cuban flag flies at the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., after an absence of more than 54 years. President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro have met face-to-face twice and talked by telephone three times, even joking about the famously long speeches of Fidel Castro.

Cuba has been removed from the U.S. black list of state sponsors of terrorism, and there have been talks on prickly issues such as migration, human rights, and claims for confiscated property of U.S. citizens and corporations.

But because expectations were so high and many U.S. businesses were so eager to engage after a half-century drought, some say Cuba has been slow in taking up the United States on the new business opportunities the Obama administration began outlining in January. Obama also has said he wants to work with Congress to lift the embargo.

Expectations were high among the Cuban people, too, said Domingo Amuchástegui, a former Cuban intelligence officer who left the island in 1994, because “in Cuba’s political culture, when the president says something is going to be done, take his word, it will be done. Cubans who heard Obama thought this is the president’s word.”

More here.

View an interactive timeline here.

December 15, 2015

Miami Republican files legislation to end automatic benefits for Cuban immigrants

Curbelo3+refugee+lnew+cmg

@PatriciaMazzei

Citing flagrant abuse of government funds, a Miami congressman published legislation Tuesday to stop automatically granting Cubans in the U.S. welfare benefits that take most immigrants of other nationalities years to obtain.

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, himself a Cuban American, filed a bill to amend existing federal law that treats all Cuban arrivals as refugees or political asylees — meaning they are entitled to food stamps, Medicaid, disability insurance and other assistance.

Under his proposal, Cubans would be treated like immigrants from most other countries, who are required to file a refugee or asylum claim — and wait years for it to be approved — before qualifying for special benefits. Only Haitian immigrants, already treated like Cubans under the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980, would continue to be exempted, would continue to be exempted upon legal arrival in the U.S.

“Cubans coming to the United States will have the same opportunity as immigrants from other nations like Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Central America — from any country — to work and earn an honest living while contributing to our great nation,” Curbelo said in a web video released Tuesday to explain his proposal. “Like asylum seekers from all over the world, those Cubans seeking public assistance benefits will have to demonstrate that they left Cuba fleeing political persecution and are unable to return under the current totalitarian regime.”

His proposal would only affect Cubans who immigrate to the U.S. after his law is passed.

Curbelo’s three-page bill doesn’t touch the Cuban Adjustment Act, the 1966 law that gives Cubans the privilege of applying for permanent residency after 366 days in the U.S. They would still qualify for all eligible federal benefits as residents and later citizens.

But Curbelo acknowledged his legislation, HR 4247, dubbed the “Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act of 2015,” is a “first step” toward rewriting U.S.-Cuba immigration policy, which would eventually involve tackling the CAA.

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

Miami lawmaker calls for an end to 'wet foot, dry foot' policy

From the News Service of Florida:

A Miami Republican wants state lawmakers to urge Congress to repeal a Cold War-era law that gives Cubans preferential treatment when coming to the U.S.

The proposal (HM 959) by state Rep. Frank Artiles would be a non-binding "memorial" to Congress calling for repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which is often referred to as the "wet foot, dry foot" policy. Unlike refugees from other nations, if Cubans step foot on U.S. soil --- by traversing the 90 miles of water between the two nations or through another route --- they are allowed to stay.

"This law provides Cuban migrants with an advantage that migrants of other nationalities do not have," said the proposal, filed Monday. The proposed memorial notes that the law was written at a time the Cuban government wasn't recognized by the U.S.

"The Cold War has ended, the United States has recognized the Cuban government, and both countries now maintain diplomatic relations, and travel between the United States and Cuba is now considerably less restricted," the proposal said.

In the spring, the Legislature approved a memorial that opposed President Barack Obama's decision to open diplomatic relations with Cuba and called for Congress to maintain an embargo with the nation.