September 29, 2016

Hillary Clinton campaign: 'Trump’s business with Cuba appears to have broken the law'




A day before her visit to South Florida, Hillary Clinton's campaign pounced on the Newsweek article that concludes Donald Trump's company violated the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba.

“Trump’s business with Cuba appears to have broken the law, flouted U.S. foreign policy, and is in complete contradiction to Trump’s own repeated, public statements that he had been offered opportunities to invest in Cuba but passed them up," said Clinton advisor Jake Sullivan in a statement. "This latest report shows once again that Trump will always put his own business interest ahead of the national interest - and has no trouble lying about it."

Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts paid at least $68,000 to a consulting firm in late 1998 in an attempt to give Trump’s business a head start in Cuba if the U.S. loosened or lifted trade sanctions, according to the front-page Newsweek report, titled “The Castro Connection.” The consulting firm, Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corp., later instructed the casino company on how to make it look like legal spending for charity.

The news could hurt Trump's efforts to win the Cuban American vote in Miami.

Clinton speaks in Coral Springs Friday afternoon where she is courting Democratic voters including blacks and Hispanics. It's unclear if she will use her speech to bash Trump about the embargo. In 2015 while in Miami, Clinton announced her support for lifting the embargo.

- with Patricia Mazzei



Rubio calls report that Trump broke Cuba embargo 'troubling'


Donald Trump’s hotel and casino company secretly spent money trying to do business in Cuba in violation of the U.S. trade embargo, Newsweek reported Thursday in a story that could endanger the Republican presidential nominee’s Cuban-American support in South Florida.

Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts paid at least $68,000 to a consulting firm in late 1998 in an attempt to give Trump’s business a head start in Cuba if the U.S. loosened or lifted trade sanctions, according to the front-page Newsweek report, titled “The Castro Connection.” The consulting firm, Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corp., later instructed the casino company on how to make it look like legal spending for charity.

The following year, Trump flirted with a Reform Party presidential run, giving a November 1999 speech to the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami where he cast himself as a pro-embargo hardliner who refused to do potentially lucrative business on the communist island until Fidel Castro was gone.

Neither Trump nor Richard Fields, the head of Seven Arrows consulting, responded to Newsweek’s requests for comment. Trump later sued Fields, and former Trump adviser Roger Stone suggested to Politico Florida that Fields might have acted on his own, without Trump’s approval, in exploring doing business in Cuba. Newsweek cited an anonymous former Trump executive who claimed “Trump had participated in discussions about the Cuba trip and knew it had taken place.” Trump hired the same consulting firm to try to develop a Florida casino with the Seminole Tribe.

When Seven Arrows billed Trump’s company to reimburse its Cuba work, according to Newsweek, it suggested using “Carinas Cuba” as charitable cover to get an after-the-fact Cuba license from the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control. OFAC doesn’t issue licenses after companies have already gone to Cuba, and the Catholic charity is actually named Caritas Cuba.

The report comes as Trump has worked to shore up Hispanic support in Miami-Dade County, where Cuban Americans comprise about 72 percent of registered Republicans. Hemet with a group of mostly Cuban Americans Tuesday in Little Havana, and earlier this month in Miami he blasted President Barack Obama’s reengagement policy with the island, after sounding OK with it last year.

Trump’s most prominent local Cuban-American supporter, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, called the Newsweek report “troubling.”

“The article makes some very serious and troubling allegations,” he said in a campaign statement. “I will reserve judgment until we know all the facts and Donald has been given the opportunity to respond.”

More here.

Photo credit: Tim Chapman, Miami Herald file

September 27, 2016

Rubio remembers Marlins ace on Senate floor



Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a moving tribute to Jose Fernandez in the Senate on Tuesday, growing emotional in recalling their shared opposition to the Cuban government.

In a poignant speech on the Senate floor, Rubio said the ace pitcher was on his way to a Hall of Fame career and to leading the Miami Marlins to "a couple pennants" before he died Sunday when his 32-foot fishing boat struck a jetty near Government Cut channel.

Miami residents Emilio Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25, close friends of the 24-year-old Fernandez, were also on board the vessel and died with him.

"I never met Jose Fernandez, yet I feel like I knew him," Rubio said in his tribute. "And that's how millions of people feel. They feel like they know him. It is, in the end, our story -- as Cuban-Americans, as Americans."

The Miami Republican and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson introduced a resolution honoring Fernandez.

Among the personal qualities and professional accomplishments cited in the measure, it says that Fernandez "came to embody the American dream and was a great source of pride for the Cuban exile community of the United States."

Fernandez's grandfather,  Rubio said, tried and failed to defect from Cuba 13 times before succeeding and settling in Tampa 

As great a pitcher as he was, the former presidential candidate said, "off the field -- as a human being, as a son, as a grandson, as a teammate, as a neighbor -- he was even better."

Fernandez's grandfather, Rubio recounted, tried and failed to defect from Cuba 13 times before succeeding and settling in Tampa.

Rubio then told the by-now familiar story of how Fernandez rescued his mother after she fell overboard in 2007 during the family's fourth attempt to leave Cuba while taking a more perilous, longer route to Mexico instead of Florida.

"Jose was 15 years old," Rubio said. "Before America ever met Jose Fernandez, before his fastball earned him millions of dollars, this young man was revealing himself."

Rubio quoted from a 2012 scouting report on the fellow Cuban-American, then 20, that said he "exudes confidence" and had a "no-fear approach" to pitching.

"This was not arrogance," the senator said. "This was the peaceful self-assurance of a kid who had known life and death."

Rubio said he was touched by Fernandez saying that his proudest accomplishment in life was having become a U.S. citizen last year.

"'I consider myself now to be free,'" Rubio quoted the pitcher as having said.

Rubio added: "Jose knew how special and fortunate and blessed he was and we are," Rubio said. "He went from a Cuban prison to a Major League clubhouse. Jose's story was our story. He reminds so many in my community of someone they knew -- of a brother or a son or a nephew."

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, El Nuevo Herald





September 23, 2016

Ros-Lehtinen, Ortega toss verbal grenades at each other

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Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the Nicaraguan government traded bitter criticisms Friday over charges of intimidation and repression.

The exchange started with a statement by the Managua government opposing an effort in Congress led by Ros-Lehtinen to restrict its access to loans in what would be a form of economic sanctions.

Without citing the Miami Republican by name, Nicaragua accused her and other lawmakers of having "been involved in disinformation and intimidation campaigns in the media against Democratic, pluralistic and progressive processes in Latin America and the Caribbean."

The alleged interference in Latin America appeared to be a reference to lawmakers' past criticism of the Cuban and Venezuelan governments.

Ros-Lehtinen has been especially critical of Cuba and its allies in Venezuela and Nicaragua, along with Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and other Cuban-American members of Congress.

Ros-Lehtinen fired back at the Nicaraguan government's latest salvo.

"Ortega's baseless accusations are just his latest attempt to detract attention away from the human rights abuses and the acts of corruption and intimidation he has been perpetrating in Nicaragua, but nobody is fooled," she said.

While Ros-Lehtinen targeted Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the statement criticizing her bill came from the government he heads, not from him personally, although he all but certainly approved it.

And although Ros-Lehtinen said Ortega had attacked her, the Nicaraguan government statement did not mention her or any other lawmaker by name.

The House on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure that would place U.S. limits on loans to the Ortega government unless it accepts international observers and other steps toward holding free elections.

Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Albio Sires, a Cuban-American Democrat from New Jersey, were lead sponsors of the legislation. The Senate has not pass a companion bill.

Ros-Lehtinen said her measure's main aim was to “stop Ortega from accessing international funds until he adopts reforms that promote democracy, strengthen the rule of law, respect human rights, and celebrate free, fair, and transparent elections supervised by electoral observers.”

For more, read here.

Photo credit: Emily Michot



September 15, 2016

TSA says no U.S. marshals aboard new Cuba flights

via @HeraldMimi

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is calling for the suspension of the regularly scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba that began in recent weeks because he says, despite previous claims, federal air marshals still aren’t aboard the new flights to and from the island.

In response to a request from the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, the TSA issued a statement in August that said: “In the spirit of enhancing the security of international civil aviation, the United States and The Republic of Cuba entered into an aviation security agreement that sets forth the legal framework for the deployment of U.S. in-flight security officers — more commonly known as federal air marshals — on board certain flights to and from Cuba.”

But during a House hearing Wednesday, TSA Deputy Administrator Huban Gowadia said that the Cuban government has not yet signed the agreement, meaning the first scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba since 1961 began without the deployment of air marshals.

Gowadia clarified that air marshals only fly on select charters rather than the new flights, and said the United States and Cuba are continuing to work toward an agreement covering regularly scheduled flights.

More here.

September 14, 2016

FIU poll: Most Miami-Dade Cubans favor new U.S.-Cuba policy

Cuba plane

In the 18 months since President Barack Obama announced a new U.S.-Cuba policy, his views have won bigger support among his most skeptic audience: Miami-Dade County Cuban Americans.

A new Florida International University poll shows a majority of local Cuban Americans — 56 percent — “strongly” or “mostly” favors reengagement with the island.

The results are from FIU’s first Cuba poll since Dec. 17, 2014, the date when Obama said he would reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, and March 2016, when Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in more than eight decades. Prior surveys, which the university began conducting in 1991, had a trend of increasing public support for normalizing Cuba relations. The latest data suggest Obama’s policy has pushed that trend even further.

“It’s given kind of a space for that kind of attitude — out of frustration, out of hope, out of something — where it can be expressed more,” said Guillermo Grenier, one of the professors who conducted the survey of 1,000 respondents for the university’s Cuban Research Institute.

For the first time in the poll’s history, a clear majority of respondents — 54 percent — also wants to end the Cuban embargo, compared to 32 percent who want to keep it (14 percent don’t know or wouldn’t say). The last time FIU conducted the poll, in 2014, respondents were against the embargo by 45-41 percent, with 12 percent in the don’t-know/wouldn’t-answer category.

Asked if the embargo was successful, 55 percent said it wasn’t “at all.” Only 17 percent said it worked well or very well, with 19 percent saying it had worked “not very well.”

This being a presidential election year, the pollsters also tried to gauge the popularity of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump among local Cubans. They favored Trump by 36-31 percent, though that number is somewhat stale because the survey was conducted from July 11-Aug. 12.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

September 08, 2016

A familiar flashpoint between Joe Garcia and Carlos Curbelo: Cuba

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Democrat Joe Garcia accused Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo on Wednesday of launching a "divisive" political ad espousing an "odious" policy toward Cuban immigrants.

In a Spanish-language TV interview, Garcia referred to Curbelo's recent ad highlighting the Miami congressman's legislation to curtail abuse of federal benefits by Cuban immigrants who frequently return to the island. Garcia called it "an odious, toxic political calculation."

"At least when Mr. Trump stands in front of me, he's my enemy and he says so," Garcia said, dropping the name of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. "Worse is the guy from my same community, my same culture, who stands next to me and sticks a dagger in our backs."

Curbelo's law would no longer let Cuban immigrants automatically qualify for refugee status, which allows them to obtain certain government benefits. Some so-called economic refugees have been taking the money and frequently returning to Cuba, which suggests the immigrants aren't fleeing political persecution. That was the reason for considering Cubans refugees in the first place.

"This country offers us limitless opportunities," Curbelo says in his ad. "We can't let anyone abuse its generosity."

Garcia said Curbelo's proposal would hurt "the defenseless, the disenfranchised, the ones who arrived yesterday, as if these people don't deserve the consideration that Curbelo's father received, that my grandfather received."

Garcia has long disagreed with calls to alter federal laws that benefit Cuban immigrants. Cuba was one of the key issues that divided Curbelo and Garcia in the 2014 race, which Curbelo won. The 2016 contest looks no different.

"It's disgusting language like this that made Garcia's short, scandal-plagued tenure so ineffective," Curbelo spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said in a statement. "While Joe Garcia continues to push normalized relations that threaten Cuban refugee status entirely, Carlos' proposal will protect the benefits for true refugees who continue to escape the Castro regime's oppression." 

Garcia, who held the 26th district seat before Curbelo, boasted he won last week's Democratic primary despite being outspent by opponent Annette Taddeo. He credited knocking on voters' doors and sitting in their kitchens to sip coffee.

"Not only are we going to win" the general election, he predicted to América TeVé's Pedro Sevcec. "We're going to win handily."

Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff

August 22, 2016

Kaine: U.S., Cuba should discuss human rights


Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine said Monday that the U.S. should seek some sort of human-rights agreement with Cuba, as both nations continue to expand their diplomatic relationship.

Speaking in Spanish to Colombia-based radio network W Radio, Kaine praised President Obama's renewal of U.S.-Cuba ties -- he and presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are "big supporters" -- but acknowledged differences remain between the two countries.

"There are still issues between the United States and Cuba, and we should talk and seek an agreement on human-rights, issues, for example," he said. "But we need to have a relationship with Cuba, like with other nations. Diplomatic relations aren't a sign that everything's perfect, but it's a channel for dialogue, and I'm really glad that the relationship between the United States and Cuba is in a new chapter. This relationship has already opened doors in the Americas with other countries, I think in a good way for the United States -- and for Cuba, too."

The interview, taped while Kaine was in Los Angeles, lasted about 10 minutes. According to Caracol, in additional to airing in Colombia and South Florida, the interview got play in Panama, Venezuela, Spain, and the New York area.

Asked about the importance of Florida's Hispanic vote, Kaine noted Latinos can affect election results in other states, too. His home state of Virginia has 300,000 eligible Hispanic votes in an electorate of about 4 million, he said.

Continue reading "Kaine: U.S., Cuba should discuss human rights" »

August 15, 2016

Ted Cruz pens Miami Herald op-ed on 'misguided' Obama Cuba policy

Former Republican presidential candidate and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, writing in the Miami Herald op-ed pages:

I had the honor recently to meet with Cuban dissident Oscar Biscet, who was visiting the United States to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom that President George W. Bush had awarded him in 2007. Then serving a 25-year prison sentence for promoting human rights in Cuba, Dr. Biscet originally had to accept the award in absentia. But following his 2011 release, he was here in person.

I asked Dr. Biscet if his ability to leave the island was emblematic of political liberalization after normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States just over a year ago. Smiling, this man who has endured savage torture by Raúl and Fidel Castro’s police state said No. There was no liberalization. The Castros were just trying to appear reasonable so they could get the most money possible out of tourists coming to the island.

Didn’t Americans understand, he asked in genuine amazement, that their dollars were going to enrich the Communist regime? The answer is, once again, No. American tourists and industries are tripping over themselves to visit Cuba and project themselves onto a 1950s movie set, all while imagining their commerce trickles down to the Cuban people.

More here.

July 28, 2016

Trump execs traveled to Cuba, Bloomberg reports

From Bloomberg Businessweek:

On an afternoon late last year, the golfers teeing off included a group of U.S. executives from the Trump Organization, who have the enviable job of flying around the world to identify golf-related opportunities. The company operates 18 courses in four countries, including Scotland and the United Arab Emirates. It would like to add Cuba. Asked on CNN in March if he’d be interested in opening a hotel there, Donald Trump said yes: “I would, I would—at the right time, when we’re allowed to do it. Right now, we’re not.” On July 26 he told Miami’s CBS affiliate, WFOR-TV, that “Cuba would be a good opportunity [but] I think the timing is not right.”

That, however, hasn’t stopped some of his closest aides from traveling to Cuba for years and scouting potential sites and investments. The U.S. trade embargo, first established in 1962, prohibits U.S. citizens from traveling to the island. But over the years, the U.S. has carved out allowances for family visits, journalism, and other social causes. Most commercial activity is still forbidden, though, with a few exceptions, such as selling medical supplies or food. Golf isn’t on that list.

Trump Organization executives and advisers traveled to Havana in late 2012 or early 2013, according to two people familiar with the discussions that took place in Cuba and who spoke on condition of anonymity. Among the company’s more important visitors to Cuba have been Larry Glick, Trump’s executive vice president for strategic development, who oversees golf, and Edward Russo, Trump’s environmental consultant for golf. On later trips, they were joined by Jason Greenblatt, the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, and Ron Lieberman, another Trump golf executive. Glick, Greenblatt, and Lieberman didn’t respond to requests for interviews. Melissa Nathan, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, declined to answer a list of detailed questions.

More here.