July 20, 2015

U.S., Cuba reestablish diplomatic relations

via @HeraldMimi

WASHINGTON -- The red, white and blue Cuban flag was raised over the island’s embassy in Washington on Monday for the first time since 1961 — a fluttering symbol of the historic thaw taking place between the Cold War foes.

As pro and anti-Cuban protestors gathered outside the gates of the embassy chanting “Fidel” and “Justice” — the flag was was raised at about 10:35 EST.

The ceremony came after the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic ties early Monday after a 54-year gap.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez led a delegation of 36 Cuban officials and members of Cuba’s cultural world at the ceremony marking the conversion of its interests section in Washington to a full-fledged embassy.

Speaking at the embassy, Rodríguez hailed the new era in diplomatic relations but said they were just the beginning.

More here.

This post has been updated.

July 17, 2015

Keeping score on who's gotten more out of new U.S.-Cuba policy

via @HeraldMimi

As the United States and Cuba prepare to resume diplomatic relations Monday for the first time in 54 years, the debate over who got the better deal in the historic rapprochement continues to swirl, especially in South Florida, where Cuba-watching sometimes resembles a contact sport.

Some say they see positives for both sides and a plus for the United States or say it’s not about who got the upper hand in the negotiations to end more than a half-century of hostilities. Others, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, say they see “concession after concession” made to a Cuban government that continues to crack down on dissidents and human rights activists.

“What difference does it make who gains more, especially since there is no clear loser?” asks Helene Dudley, a former Peace Corps volunteer who now works with a micro-loan program. “The people of both countries benefit from this win-win deal, and it’s impossible to gauge the ripple effects. We should drop our pettiness toward Cuba. Each side has much cause for regret in actions over the last 100 years. It is time to move forward.”

But for the Cuban-American congressional delegation, the United States got the short end of the stick in the new relationship that officially begins Monday with the opening of respective embassies in Washington, D.C., and Havana.

“The so-called negotiations by the Obama administration have resulted in nothing but a Christmas in July for the Castros,” said South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “With nothing in return from the communist regime, the United States has managed to legitimize the Castro brothers with an American embassy in Havana, has given the Cubans access to financial institutions in the U.S., has promoted an infusion of American tourism to the island, and has delisted Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list.”

More here.

July 14, 2015

Pro-Cuba engagement PAC reports first fundraising totals

@PatriciaMazzei

A political action committee formed earlier this year to promote closer ties between the U.S. and Cuba trumpeted its first fundraising totals in a statement Tuesday.

The New Cuba PAC said raised more than $178,000 between May 4 and June 30. Half of the contributions came from Cuban Americans, according to the group's statement. A detailed public report is due to be filed this month to the Federal Election Commission.

One of its fundraisers was held two months ago on Miami Beach with special guest Alan Gross, the former contractor imprisoned for five years in Cuba. The PAC supports, among other things, a proposed Senate bill that would end the American travel ban to the island.

"For some time now polling has shown the American people are way ahead of the politicians in Washington on Cuba policy, and the record travel to the island over the last six months shows their voting with their feet as well," said James Williams, a PAC director. The group's fundraising "sends a strong message to Congress that the American people are also putting their money where their mouth is and want Congress to play a constructive role in this new era."

Critics of the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement have been collecting political funds for years.

Two GOP presidential candidates have compared Mexican immigrants to Mariel boatlift Cubans

@PatriciaMazzei

Donald Trump, having already infamously characterized Mexican who cross the border as criminals and rapists sent to by their government to pillage America, last week lumped another immigrant group in the same category: Cubans.

Trump told a conservative radio host that Mexican immigrants today are like Cuban exiles who arrived on Florida shores during the Mariel boatlift in 1980.

"If you remember, years ago, when Castro opened up his jails, his prisons, and he sent them all over to the United States because let the United States have them," Trump said in the interview, first reported by BuzzFeed News. "And you know, these were the many hardcore criminals that he sent over. And, you know, that was a long time ago but essentially Mexico is sending over."

He then went on to cite the death of 32-year-old woman in San Francisco, shot apparently at random by man who had previously been deported five times to Mexico. 

The same day, fellow GOP presidential candidate and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul made a similar comparison in a Fox News interview. Though Paul didn't explicitly say Mexicans today are like Cubans in 1980, he used the boatlift as an example of why municipalities today should be banned from restricting their cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

"Remember when the Marielitos were dumped here by Cuba? These were criminals," Paul said. "He emptied his jails, and he just dumped them on us. You want immigration services that work for the federal government to be able to ferret out are criminals being released in to the community."

Fidel Castro's government shipped prisoners and mentally ill patients on Mariel, mixed in with other refugees, and some Cuban exiles who had arrived in previous decades derided the Marielitos, in 1980 and to this day. But Cuban Americans are also fiercely defensive of their community -- and many of the people who immigrated in the boatlift are now voters and parents of voters. Will Trump and Paul -- if they make it that far -- make the same comparison in South Florida?

 

 

July 08, 2015

'Probably not,' Jeb Bush says about keeping U.S. embassy open in Cuba as president

@PatriciaMazzei

Jeb Bush, who has opposed President Obama's re-engagement with Cuba, said Wednesday that if he were elected he would likely not keep a U.S. embassy open in Havana.

"Probably not," Bush told the editorial board of the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper.

Embassies in Washington and Havana are slated to open July 20. "I haven't given thought about undoing a work in progress," Bush said.

But he said that while he's willing to give Obama the "benefit of the doubt" about reaching out to opposing governments, he has seen few results from the closer relations with Cuba.

"We're negotiating without getting anything in return," Bush said. "While we're negotiating, the repression has actually increased."

That claim surprised the editorial board. Cuba news is no where near as prominent in New Hampshire as it is in Bush's hometown of Miami, where beatings and detentions attributed to Cuban security forces are regularly denounced by local members of Congress and discussed on Spanish-language media.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Bush rival for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, published an op-ed Wednesday in the New York Times also arguing against Obama's policy.

In a lengthy piece released Wednesday afternoon, Cuba Now, a non-profit that promotes engagement with the island, questioned whether Raúl Castro's regime has in fact become more repressive. While "the human rights situation in the island remains of a grave concern," Cuba Now Executive Director Ric Herrero argued critics have cherry-picked statistics to make things seem worse than they are.

Opponents of the re-engagement have written pieces of their own documenting, among other things, the Cuban regime's ongoing political arrests.

Bush said in New Hampshire that he hears first-hand from his Miami friends and neighbors worried about life on the island. The Union Leader live-streamed the Bush interview online.

"I have a lot of friends who have suffered a lot," he said. 

This post has been updated.

July 07, 2015

Miami Republicans cite attack of dissident as sign Obama Cuba policy isn't working

Rodiles

@PatriciaMazzei

Two of Miami's Cuban-American Republican members of Congress condemned an attack on a Cuban dissident as a sign that President Obama is foolish to pursue closer relations with the regime on the island.

The beating of Antonio Rodiles, which Rodiles blamed on Cuban security forces, and mass detention of nearly 100 other dissidents Sunday prompted statements in solidarity from U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

"Beating activists committed to the return of democratic rights to the island, such as Rodiles and members of the Ladies in White, show that the Castro regime has no interest in changing," Ros-Lehtinen said Monday. "The opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana demonstrates that the Obama Administration is willing to turn a blind eye  to the sadistic ways of this brutal regime in order to build a presidential legacy."  

"Since President Obama's December 17, 2014 announcement, the Castro regime's brutality against innocent pro-democracy leaders has escalated," Diaz-Balart said. "Predictably, following the President's announcement a few days ago that he will press ahead with opening embassies without any conditions, the human rights abuses in Cuba continue unabated. The Castro regime has been emboldened by President Obama's shameful disinterest in human rights and liberties in Cuba."

Photo courtesy Antonio Rodiles

July 04, 2015

Jeb Bush donor pens Miami Herald op-ed backing thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations

@PatriciaMazzei

Coral Gables health-care executive Mike Fernandez backs renewed U.S.-Cuba relations, he said in an op-ed published in the Miami Herald -- a significant endorsement from a prominent political backer of 2016 Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush.

Fernandez wrote:

Cuban Americans everywhere, but especially the diaspora in South Florida, have been awakening to the reality that Cuba's isolation was and is not a sustainable strategy.

The case has been made for decades that Cuba’s failure is a self-inflicted wound by its dictatorial leadership.

Unfortunately, those of us born on the island — and in partnership with U.S. policies — provided the strategic scapegoat that perpetuated the cover that allowed the Cuban government to blame the embargo and Washington for all its failures.

[...]

Let the embassies open. Let Google and Yahoo, the press and Yoani, and the memory of Paya and many others be the order of the day.

Let’s support the Cuban people’s hunger for a future, a future that has been denied to them for decades now. Let's us be a force of change, not a people of unremitting anger.

My friends, my family, my fellow Cuban Americans, let’s set our people free.

Let us free our minds of hate and memories and thoughts or revenge. 

That's very different from what Bush said this week when President Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro announced the re-opening of embassies in Washington and Havana.

"I oppose the decision to further embrace the Castro regime by opening an embassy in Havana," Bush said in a statement. "The real test of the Obama Administration's rapprochement with the Castro regime in Cuba is not whether President Obama's legacy is burnished with dubious diplomatic achievements and photo-ops, but whether improved relations between Havana and Washington advance the cause of human rights and freedom for the Cuban people.

"The ongoing detention of dissidents and continued human rights abuses suggest the Administration’s policy is failing this test."  

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 here.

On Cuban embassy news, Marco Rubio restates vow to oppose ambassador

@CAdamsMcClatchy

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a key voice opposing the United States’ opening to Cuba, reacted to the news that the two nations are set to establish their embassies by repeating his vow to oppose one of the next steps in the thawing process -- the confirmation of an ambassador to the island nation -- until certain conditions are met.

The opening to Cuba was first announced in December. It 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. On Tuesday, word leaked that the two nations were planning to open embassies in their respective capitals; a formal announcement on that is expected Wednesday.

The thawing could eventually lead to a full lifting of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and open travel there. The White House can accomplish some steps on its own, while Congress would need to weigh in on other aspects.

Rubio, a Republican from West Miami who is in the top tier of GOP presidential candidates for the 2016 nomination, is a leading voice against the Cuban opening. While the politics of the Cuban opening are somewhat mixed, other GOP lawmakers tend to defer to Rubio on the issue.

Continue reading "On Cuban embassy news, Marco Rubio restates vow to oppose ambassador " »

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.