November 26, 2016

With Castro's death, Miami politicians spy opening for Trump to adopt Cuba hard line

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@PatriciaMazzei @doug_hanks

In Miami, the city where candidates built their careers on stridently resisting the Cuban dictatorship, Fidel Castro’s death marked the end of a political era — and, Cuban-American members of Congress hoped, the start of a new one, with reinvigorated support for a hardline policy under President-elect Donald Trump.

Republican politicians, some of them still uneasy about a Trump presidency, confidently declared Saturday that his incoming administration, set to begin less than two months from Castro’s unexpected demise, represents the best hope for the Cuban opposition — assuming Trump fulfills his campaign promise to sever the Cuba ties reestablished by President Barack Obama.

“President-elect Trump has correctly stated that Obama’s overtures to the Castro regime were one-sided and only benefited the Cuban regime,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, who wrote in Jeb Bush’s name for president instead of voting for Trump.

“I hope that the new administration, under the leadership of President Trump, seizes this moment as an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to the Cuban people that it will pressure the Castro regime by rolling back these executive actions of the Obama administration.”

Trump’s candidacy had managed to pull together a majority of Cuban-American voters, according to exit polls — but not necessarily their elected leaders, who denounced Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants, especially Hispanics, and reported business interest in Cuba. Castro’s death late Friday appeared to do more to consolidate his standing among Miami’s Cuban-American political establishment than anything he said during the campaign.

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

Florida politicians react to Fidel Castro's death


Fidel Castro's death late Friday prompted a flurry of responses from politicians across the country and the world. We're compiling mostly Florida reactions here, and will update as they come in.

President Barack Obama:

At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans - in Cuba and in the United States - with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him. 

For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements. During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends - bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity. This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba.

Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro's family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.

President-elect Donald Trump:

Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.
While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.
Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.  I join the many Cuban Americans who supported me so greatly in the presidential campaign, including the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association that endorsed me, with the hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba. 
Gov. Rick Scott, R-Florida:
I join Cuban-Americans and Floridians across the country who are incredibly hopeful for the future of Cuba.  After decades of oppression, the Cuban people deserve freedom, peace and democracy.  I have met so many Cubans who have come to Florida to flee the tyranny, brutality, and communism of the Castro brothers’ oppressive regime and now is the time to look at policy changes that will demand democracy in Cuba.  Today’s news should usher in an era of freedom, peace and human dignity for everyone in Cuba and the State of Florida stands ready to assist in that mission.  I spoke to President-elect Trump this morning to let him know that the State of Florida will help his administration in any way to support a pro-democracy movement in Cuba.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin:
Now that Fidel Castro is dead, the cruelty and oppression of his regime should die with him. Sadly, much work remains to secure the freedom of the Cuban people, and the United States must be fully committed to that work. Today let us reflect on the memory and sacrifices of all those who have suffered under the Castros
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida:
Fidel Castro seized power promising to bring freedom and prosperity to Cuba, but his communist regime turned it into an impoverished island prison. Over six decades, millions of Cubans were forced to flee their own country, and those accused of opposing the regime were routinely jailed and even killed.

Sadly, Fidel Castro's death does not mean freedom for the Cuban people or justice for the democratic activists, religious leaders, and political opponents he and his brother have jailed and persecuted. The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not. And one thing is clear, history will not absolve Fidel Castro; it will remember him as an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery and suffering on his own people.

The future of Cuba ultimately remains in the hands of the Cuban people, and now more than ever Congress and the new administration must stand with them against their brutal rulers and support their struggle for freedom and basic human rights.

Continue reading "Florida politicians react to Fidel Castro's death" »

The Miami Herald obituary of Fidel Castro


via @glenngarvin

Fidel Castro, who towered over his Caribbean island for nearly five decades, a shaggy-bearded figure in combat fatigues whose long shadow spread across Latin America and the world, is dead at age 90. His brother Raul announced the death late Friday night.

Millions cheered Fidel Castro on the day he entered Havana. Millions more fled the communist dictator’s repressive police state, leaving behind their possessions, their families, the island they loved and often their very lives. It’s part of the paradox of Castro that many people belonged to both groups.

Few national leaders have inspired such intense loyalty — or such a wrenching feeling of betrayal. Few fired the hearts of the world’s restless youth as Castro did when he was young, and few seemed so irrelevant as Castro when he was old — the last Communist, railing on the empty, decrepit street corner that Cuba became under his rule.

He held a unique place among the world’s leaders of the past century. Others had greater impact or won more respect. But none combined his dynamic personality, his decades in power, his profound effect on his own country and his provocative role in international affairs.

As he changed the face of Cuba, he remapped South Florida as well, transforming it from the southernmost tip of the United States to the northernmost point of Latin America. The suffering of the refugees he sent pouring into Miami eventually turned to triumph as they forged economic and political success.

He was a spellbinding orator who was also a man of action. His tall and powerful build was matched by an outsized ego, boundless energy and extraordinary luck that carried him to victory as a guerrilla leader in 1959 against nearly impossible odds, then helped him survive countless plots hatched by his countless enemies.

More here.

Photo credit: UPI file


Fidel Castro dies, and Miami rejoices

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Fidel Castro died, and Cuban Miami did what it does in times of community celebration: It poured onto the streets of Little Havana — and Hialeah, and Kendall — to honk horns, bang pans, and set off more than a few fireworks, saved for exactly the sort of unexpected special occasion that proved worthy of their detonation.

The scene across Miami-Dade County, the cradle of the Cuban exile community, was one of pure, raw emotion. This time, after decades of false alarms, Castro’s death was real.

“I wish my dad was here to see this,” 27-year-old Abraham Quintero cried just before 2 a.m.

Passing cars honked incessantly. People waved huge Cuban flags. Parents carried their children and puppies. A few people appeared clad in pajamas and, in one case, flamingo slippers, jolted out of bed — and out of their homes — by the late-night news.

Shortly after midnight, Cuban leader Raúl Castro announced on state television, his voice trembling, that his older brother had died at 10:29 p.m.

“Toward victory, always!” he said.

The streets in Havana appeared to remain quiet. Not so in Miami, the city across the Florida Straits shaped by exiles who fled Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

November 18, 2016

Fretting over Trump, pro-Cuban engagement group tentatively toasts its success

via @ngameztorres

Amid the clinking glasses of Havana Club and uplifting speeches, the smiles of the invited guests at this gala could barely conceal the underlying concerns following Donald Trump's electoral victory.

The gathering at the posh The Hamilton hotel, which drew more than 300 people, marked the 10th year anniversary of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, an influential organization that has pushed hard to improve U.S. relations with Cuba.

On the eve of the Nov. 8 presidential election, CDA Executive Director Sarah Stephens said that after a period of adapting to a new U.S. president, her organization would continue to focus on “passing legislation on a bipartisan basis.” But on Sunday, with president-elect Trump heading for the White House and Republicans still in control of both chambers of Congress, her message was far more sober.

“We needed a night like this to celebrate, to celebrate what we have accomplished and to recommit to the work ahead, knowing there will be, sometimes, overwhelming obstacles, detours … but we can get through it together,” Stephens told the audience at the fundraiser.

In other remarks, Carol Browner, former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, told attendees it will be a “steeper” climb but added: “In these last eight years, and because of everything that you have done, working in a coalition, we have seen a tremendous progress leaving behind the Cold War.

“Fixing the policy on Cuba is joyful, important work,” she said. “The climb has become a little steeper, but I believe were are going to win, for Sarah and the CDA.”

More here.

November 03, 2016

Patrick Murphy's Cuba connection



During two U.S. Senate debates last month against Republican incumbent Marco Rubio, Democrat Patrick Murphy answered questions about Cuba policy by revealing a little-known detail about his personal life.

The Jupiter congressman -- a Miami native of Irish descent -- said he has Cuban family members.

"I have aunts and cousins that are Cuban," Murphy said at the first debate on Oct. 17. "I remember every Christmas Eve going around, sitting around the caja china (a Cuban pork roaster) talking about politics, talking about Cuba. So I understand that this is a very personal issue for many people."

Ten days later at the second debate, Murphy began his answer with a similar response when Cuba came up again.

"I have some Cuban relatives -- some are here this evening -- and have talked to them at length about this," Murphy said. "And I understand this is personal."

Although he gave similar answers across the two debates, this wasn't a standard line from Murphy's stump speech. It's unclear if he'd ever previously mentioned his family connection to Cuba during his nearly 20 months on the campaign trail.

His campaign told the Herald/Times this week that the relatives Murphy referenced are cousins-in-law.

Murphy's cousin Jimmy Murphy is married to Raquel, and another cousin Mike Murphy is married to Alicia; both women are Cuban-American, his campaign said.

Murphy is in rare company for a major party nominee for U.S. Senate in Florida by supporting an end to the Cuba embargo. Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, wants to keep the embargo intact.

Photo credit: AP

October 27, 2016

Top Guantanamo reporter sues Defense Department over staffing data

One of the country’s leading reporters on the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is suing the Pentagon over its delay in providing figures for staffing levels at the controversial facility.

Carol Rosenberg, a Miami Herald journalist who’s reported on the Guantánamo prison since 2002, filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking expedited release of the data.

“I’ve been trying to examine staffing levels for years,” Rosenberg said. “The detention center used to give us precise numbers on a given day, then the Southern Command stopped them.”

For more read here.

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October 25, 2016

Trump tries to win over Miami Cubans once again

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@PatriciaMazzei @doug_hanks

With Florida slipping away from his electoral grasp, Donald Trump devoted much of Tuesday to Miami’s Cuban Americans, the reliably Republican voters who have stubbornly resisted this year to lean decisively toward the GOP nominee.

Trump paid tribute to Bay of Pigs veterans who had honored him with a historic endorsement.

He listened to the mother of Brothers to the Rescue pilot shot down by the Cuban government over the Florida Straits.

“Very sad story,” Trump told Miriam de la Pena.

And he eagerly repeated criticism of rival Hillary Clinton when longtime Miami Republican donor and activist Remedios Diaz-Oliver declared, “She has never done anything right.”

“It’s just about true,” Trump said. “She’s never done a thing right. Bad judgment.”

Trump’s overtures reflected his broader problem two weeks from Election Day: He has yet to consolidate the conservative vote. The more time he spends trying to do so, the less time he’s got to try to persuade independents and moderates who decide general elections.

More here.

Photo credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

October 24, 2016

Trump on employees scouting deals in Cuba: 'They had some meetings'


Pressed on his business dealings in Cuba, Donald Trump acknowledged in a Miami interview Sunday that several of his top executives traveled to the island for company purposes.

"They had some meetings," Trump told Jim DeFede, an investigative reporter with Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported this summer that Trump's team went to Cuba to explore potential sites for golf courses.

Trump danced around questions regarding that story, and about a Newsweek report that his company violated the Cuban trade embargo in 1998. Trump is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Miami's Bay of Pigs invasion veterans, in a continued effort to try to shore up support among Cuban-American Republicans.

Here's a transcript of the DeFede interview:

Continue reading "Trump on employees scouting deals in Cuba: 'They had some meetings'" »

October 23, 2016

Trump plans visit to Cuban-exile brigade in Miami


Miami's veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion saluted Donald Trump picking him as the group's first-ever presidential endorsement. Now Trump is preparing to return the favor.

Trump plans to visit the 2506 Assault Brigade museum and library on Tuesday, the Miami Herald has learned. The Brigade emailed its members over the weekend to inform them that "we were contacted by his campaign to coordinate a discuss the Cuba issue."

Brigade 2506's executive board voted unanimously 10 days ago to back Trump. The group had never before made a presidential pick in its 55-year history. The endorsement came after Newsweek reported that Trump's casino company had violated the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba in 1998, when it paid a consultant to explore business opportunities on the communist island.

Days before that revelation, Trump the presidential candidate had pledged in Miami to espouse a hard line on Cuba policy, reversing President Barack Obama's approach.

Trump had said in a 1999 speech to the Bay of Pigs veterans that Fidel Castro has "been a killer." "He's a criminal, and I don't think you should reward people who have done what he has done," Trump said. The crowd cheered, "¡Viva Donald Trump!"

His local backers have pointed to that speech and a Herald op-ed at the time to evidence that Trump -- even if he did spend money in violation of the embargo -- changed his mind about it later.

"The Brigade's board is very proud about Mr. Trump's statements about canceling and reversing all the concessions made by President B. Obama to the dictatorship of the tyrants to our Homeland, trying to guarantee that they remain in power," reads the Brigade's email about Trump's visit to the group's "house." The museum is located at 1821 SW 9th St.

Recent polls show Trump splitting or only narrowly defeating Clinton among Florida and Miami-Dade County Cuban Americans, a sign that he has been unable to shore up support like his Republican predecessors have. Cuban Americans make up more than 70 percent of Miami-Dade's registered Republicans.

Trump's public schedule lists him holding a rally at 3 p.m. Tuesday in Sanford. He's been in Florida since late Saturday night, ahead of three days of campaigning in what for him is a must-win state against Hillary Clinton.

Photo credit: Tim Chapman, Miami Herald file