January 12, 2017

Obama repeals wet foot, dry foot immigration policy for Cubans

via @HeraldMimi

The Obama administration said Thursday it is ending the controversial “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy — essentially turning the clock on decades of preferential treatment for Cuban refugees — and making those who arrive without visas subject to deportation.

The so-called “wet-foot” part of the policy was implemented following the 1994 rafter crisis that brought some 35,000 Cubans to U.S. shores.

The change, which took effect immediately, brought to a halt the practice that gave Cubans who arrive at U.S. borders without visas automatic entry to the United States — even if they had been smuggled in by human traffickers.

“Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea.”

After outlining the policy, the White House held a call with Cuban Americans who support of the administration. They were told President-elect Donald Trump's transition team was briefed, one person on the call told the Miami Herald.

Immigration analysts say a change in U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba had to be immediate to prevent a wave of Cubans trying to reach U.S. shores by raft or boat or by crossing at the U.S. border with Mexico to beat a deadline.

More here.

January 11, 2017

Tillerson: U.S. has not held Cuba 'accountable' in reengagement


President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson, told the U.S. Senate in the opening to his confirmation hearing Wednesday that Cuba has not done enough to protect human rights since reestablishing diplomatic relations with the U.S.

"We we must adhere to standards of accountability," Tillerson said. "Our recent engagement with the government of Cuba was not accompanied by any significant concessions on human rights. We have not held them accountable for their conduct. Their leaders received much, while their people received little. That serves neither the interest of Cubans or Americans.

"Abraham Lincoln declared that America is 'the last best hope of Earth,'" he continued. "Our moral light must not go out if we are to remain an agent of freedom for mankind. Supporting human rights in our foreign policy is a key component of clarifying to a watching world what America stands for."

The hearing continues Wednesday, and will include questioning from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

January 05, 2017

Ros-Lehtinen forwards Cuba letter from ex-diplomats to Trump


U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen intends to be the emissary between President-elect Donald Trump and a group of former U.S. diplomats who want the incoming White House to reverse President Barack Obama's Cuba policy.

Ros-Lehtinen told the Miami Herald on Thursday that she forwarded to Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence a letter from the Center for a Free Cuba. The letter, reported by the Herald on Wednesday, urges Trump to review all of Obama's Cuba actions, and undo some of them immediately.

"In the last year, you have mentioned that your administration would reverse some of the damage inflicted by the current misguided Cuba policy and these outstanding American diplomats can assist to hep achieve a better deal for our own national security interests and to help the people of Cuba achieve freedom, justice, and democracy," Ros-Lehtinen wrote in a cover letter to Trump.

In a statement to the Herald, Ros-Lehtinen praised the letter for laying out "some concrete actions that can be done int he first 100 days of the incoming administration."

Read Ros-Lehtinen's letter to Trump.

January 04, 2017

Ex-diplomats ask Trump to undo Obama Cuba policy

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@PatriciaMazzei @ngameztorres

Five former U.S. diplomats with extensive experience in Latin America sent President-elect Donald Trump a letter this week urging him to rescind the executive actions signed by President Barack Obama relaxing sanctions against Cuba and to stop cooperating with Cuban state security.

In the letter, the diplomats — including Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason, who once headed the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana — ask Trump, in his first 100 days in office, to undo Obama’s “ill-conceived and unlawful executive orders lifting restrictions on doing business with the Castro regime.”

Furthermore, they write, Trump should withdraw, “as soon as possible after being sworn in,” Obama’s order to share intelligence with Cuban officials — a directive criticized by Republican members of Congress and which Cason called “ludicrous” in a Tuesday interview with the Miami Herald.

“We want him to take a fresh look” at Cuba policy, Cason said of Trump. “We gave away too much. Go back, rethink it — not break the entire relations, but certainly don’t give anything [more].”

Trump has pledged to “terminate” the U.S.-Cuba thaw pursued for two years by Obama unless Raúl Castro’s government makes unspecified concessions. Advocates of more Obama-style engagement have said they’re concerned about how Trump might handle Cuba, especially if he feels beholden to exiles who helped win him Florida.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

December 21, 2016

Florida Gov. Rick Scott writes to Raúl Castro: 'Allow a new era of freedom and opportunity'



Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to Cuban President Raúl Castro on Tuesday, calling for him to change course and “allow a new era of freedom and opportunity for Cuba.”

Scott referenced the celebrations in Miami after the death of Fidel Castro last month, saying the demonstrations “represented the hope for an end to the decades of torture, repression, incarceration and death that you and your brother have caused the people of Cuba.”

But, Scott noted, Raúl Castro appears to be continuing his brother’s legacy — with recent examples that include the arrest of Cuban artist Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado, who mocked Fidel’s death in an online video.

“After Pope Francis’ trip to Cuba, you suggested that you may return to the church and pray again. My prayer for you and the Cuban people is that you listen to Pope Francis and focus on bringing absolute freedom and democracy to Cuba,” Scott wrote. “I pray that you open Cuba to freedom of the press and religion; release all political prisoners; provide unfettered access to the internet; allow ownership of land; provide reparations to those whose property was confiscated; bring all Cuban military home and allow for free and fair elections with international supervision.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Walter Michot / Miami Herald

December 18, 2016

Approaching Trump presidency mutes White House celebration of Obama Cuba policy

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@PatriciaMazzei @ngameztorres

It could have been a celebration of one of President Barack Obama’s most significant foreign-policy legacies. Instead, on Thursday, almost two years to the day when Obama single-handedly overturned U.S. policy toward Cuba, the White House assembled Cuban Americans, Cuban government officials and business partners in Washington to offer the best reassurances they could come up with that their efforts had not been in vain.

President Obama himself has spoken to President-elect Donald Trump about the importance of holding the course on Cuba. And once out of office, Obama intends to remain involved in Cuba matters as a private citizen, several meeting attendees told the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

“He absolutely will,” said Ric Herrero, one of more than 20 Cuban Americans who met with Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

Obama did not attend the private meetings, held across the street from the White House at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on a bitterly cold Washington day, though he sent each person a letter encouraging them “to carry forward the work of strengthening our partnership in the years ahead.” Over an informal lunch, attendees noshed on medianoche sandwiches, lechón and empanadas.

The White House did not specifically respond to a request for comment on the president’s Cuba plans or conversation with Trump. It’s unclear when the two men discussed Cuba, though they recently spoke by phone the day after Cuba announced Fidel Castro’s death.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald

December 09, 2016

Ugly rift opens among once-united Cuban Americans over push to partner with Castro regime



An alliance of powerful anti-embargo Cuban-American businessmen frayed earlier this year after its prominent chairman, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, returned from Cuba with a simple request: work more closely with Raúl Castro’s communist government.

Behind Gutierrez’s ask was an indication that the Cuban government was eager to negotiate directly with major American corporations — and less enthused by U.S. efforts to assist small-time entrepreneurs on the island.

Gutierrez’s idea riled some members of the U.S.-Cuba Business Council, a group launched last year by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — a key U.S.-Cuba player — to forge economic and trade relationships between the once-estranged countries. Gutierrez’s detractors questioned the wisdom of aligning the council so firmly with the interests of the Cuban government and of big corporations — at the expense, they feared, of the Cuban people.

The tense disagreement exploded in a conference call over the summer among the council’s board members, who in some cases lashed out at each other using harsh language, several people on the call told the Miami Herald. In the end, three Cuban Americans on the board — Vice-Chairman Mike Fernández, Joe Arriola and John McIntire — quit.

“There was a big fallout,” acknowledged Arriola, the Miami-Dade County Public Health Trust chairman. “Carlos was very much into bringing businesses to partner with the Cuban government, and we were not. We decided to get out. There is nothing wrong with it — we just didn’t agree with it.”

Arriola declined to describe the contentious conference call in detail, saying only: “It was just too many Cubans together.”

More here.

Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais

November 29, 2016

U.S. sends two officials, but no delegation, to Castro memorial


The U.S. won’t send a formal delegation to Fidel Castro’s memorial in Cuba. But two representatives will attend the memorial, the White House said Tuesday.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, will go to Tuesday night’s memorial, Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.

Rhodes helped negotiate the diplomatic opening between the U.S. and Cuba announced on Dec. 17, 2014. President Barack Obama nominated DeLaurentis in September to be U.S. ambassador in Cuba. He has been the embassy chief since it reopened in July 2015.

More here.

Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

November 28, 2016

Absent 'better deal,' Trump pledges to 'terminate' Cuba opening



President-elect Donald Trump took it upon himself Monday to put political pressure on the Cuban government to deal with his incoming administration following Fidel Castro’s death.

“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” Trump posted on Twitter, his preferred medium of communication in the weeks following his election.

His tweet came a day after top transition advisers signaled Trump intends to keep the hardline position on Cuba he adopted late in his presidential campaign. The message to Cuba: Do more to reciprocate the opening offered by President Barack Obama, or pay the price when the White House is under new management beginning Jan. 20.
More here.
Photo credit: Carolyn Kaster, AP

November 27, 2016

Trump’s harsh rhetoric may put Cuba in tough diplomatic spot

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Nearly two years after President Barack Obama undertook the biggest change in U.S.-Cuba policy in half a century, the island’s communist regime suddenly finds itself at a new diplomatic crossroads, awaiting a President-elect Donald Trump who has increasingly embraced the harsh rhetoric of Obama’s most forceful Cuba critics.

Whether Trump will immediately undo the executive actions that restored relations between the two countries remains unclear. But the language adopted by Trump and his closest advisers in the hours following Fidel Castro’s death and over the weekend, and one of the incoming president’s recent transition hires, suggest Trump might be serious about punishing Cuba for not doing more in return after the U.S. lifted many of its travel, banking and commercial sanctions.

Though Obama's overtures weren't conditioned on any specific concessions by Cuba, the Cuban government has not shown much willingness to reciprocate by loosening its grip on civil society. In the face of a Trump presidency, that could prove to have been a missed opportunity to build good will.

“President-elect Trump is going to be looking for some movement in the right direction in order to have any sort of deal with Cuba,” Reince Priebus, Trump’s White House chief of staff, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I mean, it can’t just be nothing and then you get total and complete cooperation from the United States. There has to be something, and what that something is... is yet to be determined.”

Ever the negotiator, Trump has threatened to end all ties with the island so that, as president, he can extract some sort of concession from Cuba. The Obama actions Trump opposes have given him leverage to use against the island.

More here.


Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald