December 14, 2015

Yahoo Politics: Obama hopes to visit Cuba, if he can meet with dissidents

From Yahoo Politics:

President Obama promised in an exclusive interview with Yahoo News that he “very much” hopes to visit Cuba during his last year in office, but only if he can meet with pro-democracy dissidents there.

“If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody,” Obama said. “I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President [Raul] Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.”

Speaking in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Obama strongly hinted that he would make a decision “over the next several months.”

The president said he hopes that “sometime next year” he and his top aides will see enough progress in Cuba that they can say that “now would be a good time to shine a light on progress that’s been made, but also maybe (go) there to nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.”

White House aides privately describe an Obama visit – under the right circumstances – as the logical culmination of the new policy direction that he announced almost exactly one year ago.

More here.

November 29, 2015

Alan Gross says he bid Cubans farewell with 'Hasta la vista, baby'


Nearly a year after his release following almost five years in a Cuban prison, former U.S. contractor Alan Gross gave an interview to CBS' 60 Minutes about his captivity.

"It was terrible," Gross told CBS News' Scott Pelley. "There was it was a time of sensory deprivation for me, especially that first year. The place was infested with ants and roaches. I didn't have any meat, really, for five years."

Gross' wife, Judy, gave him a hint late last year about his upcoming release in a rare phone call.

"She said, 'Alan, we're never going to talk like this again. You get it?' I got it. I got it. I got it," Gross said. 

"She couldn't say it in the clear on the phone," Pelley noted.

"No," Gross said. "But she was very clear in her wording n her verbiage that I was coming home."

And when he finally left, what did he tell his Cuban captors?

"'Hasta la vista, baby,'" Gross said.

"Seriously?" Pelley asked.


An earlier version of this post and its headline misstated who said, "'Hasta la vista, baby.'" It was Gross to his captors, not the other way around.

Here's a transcript of the interview, as provided by CBS:

Continue reading "Alan Gross says he bid Cubans farewell with 'Hasta la vista, baby'" »

Congressman pens Miami Herald op-ed calling for crackdown on Cuban Adjustment Act abuse

From a Miami Herald op-ed written by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican (and Cuban American):

In 1965, one year before signing the Cuban Adjustment Act into law, President Lyndon Johnson said, “I declare this afternoon to the people of Cuba that those who seek refuge here in America will find it. The dedication of America to our traditions as an asylum for the oppressed is going to be upheld.”

Clearly, the spirit of the Act was to assist Cubans who had to flee their homeland and could not return for fear of persecution.

However, unlike other immigrants seeking political asylum, Cubans can return home without jeopardizing their status. In no other instance are refugees or asylees allowed to return to the country they claim is persecuting them without fundamental political change in that country occurring first, or before becoming U.S. citizens.

This is an obvious inconsistency in the law, as several South Florida newspapers have repeatedly pointed out. Ignoring this flaw is detrimental to efforts to reform and preserve the law for those who truly fear for their safety and security in Cuba. Moreover, those who wrongfully take advantage of this law are abusing our country’s generosity and creating gross inequities in our immigration system. Economic immigrants from many other countries in our hemisphere who waited in line to come to the United States do not understand why Cubans, who openly admit they have come for economic opportunities, enjoy these privileges.

More here.

November 19, 2015

Miami congressman presses Obama on Cuban migrant surge


A surge of Cuban migrants, many of them trying to trek to the U.S. through Central America and Mexico, has prompted U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo to send President Barack Obama a letter asking him to take up the matter.

The Miami Republican wrote the president Thursday, requesting details on the White House's plans -- if there are any -- to manage the Cuban influx and coordinate with Mexican and Central American authorities.

"It is now clear that many Cubans are responding to the idea of a normal relationship between their oppressors and the United States with fear and desperation, leading many of them to risk their safety and their lives to escape the prison that is Castro's Cuba. I am concerned about what that means for my community in South Florida," wrote Curbelo, who is Cuban-American and represents a district that extends from Westchester to Key West. 

In an effort to stop Cuban migrants from as far south as Ecuador from heading north, Nicaragua shut down its border with Costa Rica on Sunday, leaving a couple thousand Cubans stranded. More than 45,000 Cubans arrived at U.S. checkpoints along the Mexican border in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The U.S. Coast Guard has also reported an increase in Cuban rafters intercepted at sea compared to 2014.

Read Curbelo's letter: here.

November 10, 2015

Marco Rubio formally opposes ambassadorship for Roberta Jacobson


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio doesn't want Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state who negotiated the reestablishment of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations, to serve as ambassador to Mexico.

He formally announced his opposition in a statement from his Senate office Tuesday, ahead of a Senate Foreign Relations committee vote that moved along her nomination. Rubio, who heads a Western Hemisphere subcommittee, was in Milwaukee preparing for the evening's presidential debate, but senators can vote by proxy at committees. Rubio was in the minority, voting no.

Here's his statement:

Continue reading "Marco Rubio formally opposes ambassadorship for Roberta Jacobson" »

November 05, 2015

Ben Carson brushes up on wet-foot, dry-foot: 'It doesn't make sense to me'

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A day after getting caught off guard by questions about U.S.-Cuba policy, Ben Carson visited Miami and questioned the practice of allowing Cubans who reach U.S. soil to remain in the country but returning to the island Cubans intercepted at sea.

“It doesn’t make sense to me, quite frankly, the whole wet-foot, dry-foot thing, doesn’t make sense to me because, like I said, you catch them a mile [away], you treat them differently than if you’re on the shore,” Carson told reporters in a break from signing copies of his latest book at a West Kendall Barnes & Noble.

The next part of the Republican presidential candidate’s answer seemed to conflate wet-foot, dry-foot with the Cuban Adjustment Act, the federal law that allows Cubans to apply for U.S. residency after spending 366 days in the country.

“And also, recognize that many people have taken advantage of that and you know gotten all kinds of benefits that perhaps they don’t deserve,” Carson said. “There are other people who perhaps get denied things that they should have.”

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who has lived in West Palm Beach since 2013, said he “looked into” wet-foot, dry-foot after telling the Miami Herald he was unfamiliar with it in a phone interview Wednesday.

Continue reading "Ben Carson brushes up on wet-foot, dry-foot: 'It doesn't make sense to me'" »

November 04, 2015

Cuba policy questions stump Ben Carson ahead of Miami book stop

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@PatriciaMazzei @AmySherman1

Ben Carson has defied the traditional presidential playbook, taking time off from the campaign trail to promote his latest book and sign copies for hundreds of fans, even in Democratic strongholds like Tallahassee.

He heads to more unusual ground in South Florida on Thursday: West Kendall, a Hispanic bastion, and Fort Lauderdale, the seat of the bluest county in Florida. Carson leads hometown candidates Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush in the latest Florida polls, behind only Donald Trump.

"I'm a little different than most of the candidates," Carson the author told the Miami Herald in a phone interview Wednesday. "I'm looking more nationally at everything that's going on across the country."

Before Carson the candidate campaigns to Miami-Dade County's Cuban-American Republicans, though, he might have a little catching up to do.

Carson's national approach means he didn't take a close look ahead of his trip at a key issue in local politics: U.S.-Cuba policy.

In the Herald interview, Carson appeared stumped by questions about the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy, which allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil to remain here, and about the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows Cubans who arrive in the U.S. to apply for legal residency after 366 days. 

He was candid about not being up to speed.

"You're going to have to explain to me exactly what you mean by that," Carson said, asked about wet-foot, dry-foot. "I have to admit that I don't know a great deal about that, and I don't really like to comment until I've had a chance to study the issue from both sides."

On the Cuban Adjustment Act, he gave a similar response: "Again, I've not been briefed fully on what that is."

Continue reading "Cuba policy questions stump Ben Carson ahead of Miami book stop" »

November 01, 2015

David Beckham partner apologizes for tweeting Che Guevara pic from Havana

As his negotiators try to close a stadium deal with the city of Miami, one of David Beckham's most high-profile partners apologized late Sunday night for tweeting  a photo of a Che Guevara tribute during a business trip to Havana. 
"Hola Cuba," Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure posted on his Twitter feed at 4:36 pm Sunday. "Happy to be here in La Havana, Cuba."


Claure, who is Bolivian, included a photo of a massive Guevara sculpture attached to a building's face, highlighting a late Cuban revolutionary reviled in Miami's exile community for his role enforcing discipline under Fidel Castro. It was a photo of Havana's iconic Revolution Square, and the posting drew some harsh reactions from Miami politicians. 
"Somebody tell the guy that Che was a doctrinaire and a cruel executioner; also that it's La Habana," County Commissioner Xavier Suarez wrote in a tweet responding to Claure.
Carlos Curbelo, a Republican congressman representing Miami, later tweeted to Claure: "I wonder what motivated you to tweet out the image of a serial murderer who destroyed so many lives and families."


After 11 p.m., Claure posted a series of tweets explaining the photo. "I am in Cuba for business and I post photos of all my trips," he wrote. "Today I captured an image of Che Guevara in Plaza de la Revolucion." Later, he added: "My intention is not to offend anyone and my sincere apologies if I offended anyone." At 12:53 a.m., Claure tweeted: "I just deleted the picture I posted earlier while traveling in Cuba. My sincere apologies if I offended anyone. No harm intended." 


No city's political leadership has as much ill will toward the recent Cuba rapprochement as Miami's does. 

Claure's Cuba trip comes at a dicey time for Beckham's stadium chase. His team is wrapping up talks with Miami to obtain city land for a stadium next to Marlins Park, and recently launched negotiations with the county school system to own the venue in order to shield it from property taxes. 
Support of the Cuban community could be decisive for a planned city referendum next spring on the stadium plan. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado has been a notable hard-liner toward Cuban relations, saying it would be unwise for Cuba to pursue a consulate for the city. 

 The situation prompted Beckham's soccer negotiators to issue a statement at 11:26 p.m. Sunday that said: "Marcelo is in Cuba for business reasons unrelated to [Miami Beckham United, the name of the soccer venture] and may be posting photos around the island during his trip. He arrived in Havana today and captured an image of one of the City's more  prominent sites. We apologize on his behalf if anyone was offended by the image."

October 13, 2015

Survey: Floridians remained financially stressed; and most support diplomacy with Cuba

Florida voters remain financially stressed but don’t think they’re being overtaxed and are supportive of resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, according to the latest USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey released Tuesday. 

The wide-ranging survey conducted July 30 through Aug. 16 found that 71 percent of all Floridians continue to feel the effects of the Great Recession and identify the economy and jobs as the issue that remains most important to them.  Download Sunshine State Survey 2015 2

But, in the second installment of the survey of 1,251 random adults, people identified the biggest threats to the state economy as loss of jobs, government waste and inefficiency – at both the state and local level – and undocumented residents and workers.

“What this release shows is that Floridians are still stressed economically,’’ said University of South Florida public affairs professor Susan MacManus, who directed the survey. “They are very much still looking somewhat judgmentally, and in a negative fashion, toward state and local leadership. And they are hopeful for attention to transportation and infrastructure.” 

Most people pointed to either investing in education and training or improving the state’s infrastructure – each with 23 percent – as the best way to improve the state’s job climate. Only 15 percent pointed to cutting or limiting taxes and regulations.

The survey shows that support for improving the state’s infrastructure, especially transportation, increased from 17 percent in 2014 to 23 percent this year, while support for cutting or limiting taxes and regulations dropped from 21 percent in 2014 to 15 percent in 2015.

"Along with population growth comes more congestion and longer commutes—which is at least a partial explanation for growing support for infrastructure improvements,'' she said. 

Continue reading "Survey: Floridians remained financially stressed; and most support diplomacy with Cuba" »

October 01, 2015

Hillary Clinton emails reveal aide exchanges about Marco Rubio, with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


via @learyreports

High ranking aides to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton feared Sen. Marco Rubio would hold up a nominee in retaliation for the proposed Obama administration's prisoner exchange with Cuba in 2011.

A statement Rubio issued went up the chain of command to Clinton, now of course a presidential rival of Rubio’s.

“Rubio statement re negotiations around Alan Gross,” an aide wrote in a October 2011 email to Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff. “In expressing his frustration, he alludes that he’ll take it out on Roberta during the confirmation process.”

Rubio did put a hold on Roberta Jacobson from being confirmed as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, but cited a different issue. Rubio dropped the hold in March 2012 but Obama got his exchange in 2014.

It’s not unusual that Clinton and her team would monitor issues related to Foggy Bottom. The Rubio mention was among Clinton emails made public on Wednesday, part of the massive disclosure of her private email server.

Another email Clinton got, in March 2011, was a copy of a Haiti-related article in Miami Herald quoting Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami.

Ros-Lehtinen, who had been chair of the House Foreign Affairs committee, emailed Mills in January 2011 to nail down a trip to Haiti.

“I’m good to go! Ily,” the lawmaker wrote.

“Can’t wait - we will take good care of  you,” Mills wrote.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times