September 29, 2016

Revelations about Trump attempt to do business in Cuba roil Miami politics

@PatriciaMazzei

Revelations that Donald Trump’s hotel and casino company secretly spent money trying to do business in Cuba in violation of the U.S. trade embargo roiled Miami politics Thursday, forcing top Cuban-American Republicans to express concern about Trump’s dealings while maintaining that the allegation isn’t reason enough to disavow the presidential nominee yet.

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 a front-page Newsweek report titled “The Castro Connection.” The consulting firm, Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corp., later instructed the casino company to make the spending appear legal by saying it was for charity.

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

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, who has espoused a strong pro-embargo position throughout his political career, struck a similar tone, saying for now he gives Trump the benefit of the doubt.

“What we have so far are unnamed sources,” he cautioned reporters, calling the Newsweek report “preliminary.” “It’s important to see what the facts are.”

Hillary Clinton pounced on the story, saying it exposed a “pattern” of obfuscation by Trump on his business dealings. Clinton is scheduled to visit Coral Springs on Friday, with polls showing her and Trump essentially tied in Florida, the nation’s largest swing state.

More here.

An earlier version of this story was posted Thursday morning.

Diaz-Balart gives Trump benefit of doubt on report Trump broke Cuban embargo

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said Thursday he needs further evidence to know whether Donald Trump's hotel and casino company violated the U.S. trade embargo by trying to do business in Cuba in 1998.

The congressman, an anti-Castro hardliner who's said he plans to vote for "the Republican nominee," told reporters he hopes Trump will answer questions raised by the report published Thursday by Newsweek.

"They're very serious allegations," Diaz-Balart said. But he added that "up to now, it looks like there wasn't business" done in Cuba.

Newsweek reported that Trump's company reimbursed a consulting firm for spending more than $68,000 exploring doing work on the communist island -- and that the consultant later suggested Trump's company cover up the expenditure by saying it went to a Catholic charity.

"What we have so far are unnamed sources," Diaz-Balart cautioned, calling the Newsweek report "preliminary." "It's important to see what the facts are."

He conceded that "doing business in Cuba is illegal, absolutely" -- while getting in a jab at former President Bill Clinton, whose administration in 1998 loosened some of the sanctions against the island. Proving that Trump himself approved spending in Cuba in violation of the embargo would be politically "decisive," Diaz-Balart said, without elaborating on what he meant.

Diaz-Balart also gave Trump credit for traveling to Miami in November 1999 to denounce Fidel Castro and endorse the embargo. Rather than seeing that as a sign that Trump might have been playing politics with the issue, Diaz-Balart said he interpreted Trump's 1999 remarks to mean that Trump decided to steer clear of Cuba despite facing business pressure to do otherwise.

Though Diaz-Balart said he continues to wait for "clarification" from Trump on where he stands on various foreign-policy issues, the congressman lauded Trump's recent Miami visits, where he bashed President Barack Obama's Cuba reengagement policy. 

He might not know exactly where Trump stands on nuanced Cuba policy, Diaz-Balart admitted -- but Hillary Clinton would be worse, he argued.

"On all fo those issues," he said, "Mrs. Clinton's position has been frankly unacceptable."

 

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

 

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@amysherman1

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'

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@PatriciaMazzei

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

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@jamesmartinrose

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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@jamesmartinrose

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
@PatriciaMazzei

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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@PatriciaMazzei

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

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@PatriciaMazzei

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.

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