June 16, 2015

End Cuban embargo, says TV ad by new advocacy group


Engage Cuba, a new advocacy group that, as it name suggests, wants to end U.S. travel and trade restrictions to the island, said Tuesday it's airing a television advertisement pushing its position.

"It's been over 50 years. Isn't it time for a change?" the ad says.

"Public polls show that Americans are saying, 'We are tired of the Cold War-era policy that won't let us trade or travel to Cuba. We want our government to let us play a role in this significant period of transition,'" Engage Cuba President James Williams said in a statement.

The statement also said the spot will air on cable networks Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC.


June 03, 2015

Panel of U.S. House Republicans bans funding for U.S. embassy in Havana


WASHINGTON — The White House may be moving quickly to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, but House Republicans are trying to put on the brakes as a key panel voted Wednesday to prohibit funding for a U.S. embassy in Havana.

The vote by the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department and foreign operations does not prevent the department from designating an embassy in Havana.

But it makes it more difficult.

The U.S. already has a building on Havana’s Malecon waterfront that was the embassy until President Dwight D. Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations in 1961.

It is now the home of the U.S. government’s outpost in the communist nation, the Cuban Interests Section. But the building is badly dilapidated, and the State Department told Congress last month that it needs $6.6 million to make improvements for it to function as an embassy.

Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives, among them several Cuban-Americans, fiercely oppose the White House rapprochement with Cuba that began last year and are behind the efforts to block the embassy and appointment of an ambassador.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a member of the funding subcommittee, said that the provision not only prohibits funds for a U.S. embassy but also prohibits support for a Cuban embassy and Cuban consulates in the U.S.

Continue reading "Panel of U.S. House Republicans bans funding for U.S. embassy in Havana" »

June 01, 2015

In letter to administration, Rubio vows to block ambassador to Cuba unless reforms made


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio vowed to oppose the confirmation of any nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Cuba unless he sees “concrete results” on a set of democratic and human rights issues.

The Republican from West Miami, Fla., who is running for president in a crowded GOP field, wrote Secretary of State John Kerry, laying out his demands.

Rubio has been a leader in Congress in pushing back on the White House’s opening to Cuba, which was announced in December. His comments echoed previous statements on the matter; in February, for example, he noted there are “multiple ways to stop an ambassador nomination, and I reserve the right to use all of them.”

The opening to Cuba 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. It could eventually lead to a full lifting of the trade embargo with the country. The White House can accomplish some steps on its own, while Congress would need to weigh in on other aspects.

As it stands now, the U.S. diplomatic presence in Havana can function without a confirmed ambassador, and some experts on Cuban issues are skeptical the Senate would confirm one, no matter Rubio’s stance.

Rubio’s position, laid out in his letter, address four concerns: the lack of political reforms on the island; the harboring of known terrorists and other fugitives from U.S. justice; the outstanding American property claims and judgments against the Cuban government; and the limitations that continue to be placed on American diplomats working in Havana.

He wrote: “I hope to see a free and democratic Cuba, but that means we must confront the authoritarian Castro regime that suppresses its own people, not acquiesce to their demands.”

May 29, 2015

UPDATED Jeb Bush calls lifting Cuba terror designation a 'mistake,' Marco Rubio says it's a 'giveaway'


Jeb Bush, who last week basked in the hometown embrace of Miami Cuban-American hard-liners, stayed loyal to their cause Friday when he again denounced the Obama administration for removing Cuba from a list of terrorism sponsors.

"Neither continued repression at home nor Cuba's destabilizing activities abroad appear sufficient to stop President Obama from making further concessions to the Communist regime in Havana," Bush said in a statement. "Today's news is further evidence that President Obama seems more interested in capitulating to our adversaries than in confronting them. Iran's leaders are surely taking note."

He went further, referring to the action as a "mistake":

"The removal of Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List and the unilateral concessions to Havana, before it changes its authoritarian ways and stops denying the Cuban people their basic human rights, is a mistake," Bush said. "I call on Congress to keep pressure on Cuba and hold the Administration accountable."

Bush had taken a similar stance when lifting the designation was first announced. Congress had 45 days to try to block it but didn't try to do so. The change is effective as of Friday.

Sen. Marco Rubio, the other 2016 Republican presidential hopeful from Miami, has called the decision "terrible."

UPDATE: Here's video of Rubio from Friday criticizing the decision as a "giveaway":


Miami's three Cuban-American Republicans in Congress -- Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- also slammed the change in statements Friday. Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen have endorsed Bush, and Curbelo also seems likely to do so once Bush formalizes his candidacy.

Continue reading "UPDATED Jeb Bush calls lifting Cuba terror designation a 'mistake,' Marco Rubio says it's a 'giveaway'" »

May 28, 2015

In gesture to Cuban Americans, Obama visits Our Lady of Charity shrine in Miami


President Barack Obama extended a symbolic olive branch Thursday to Miami’s Cuban Americans by paying his respects to the shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Coconut Grove.

Earlier in the day, Obama visited the National Hurricane Center and met privately with the Pinecrest family of Steven Sotloff, the journalist slain last year by the Islamic State, to offer condolences.

The surprise afternoon stop at the shrine by the sea, better known by its Spanish name, La Ermita de la Caridad, comes at a time when many Cuban exiles remain miffed by the president’s decision last December to restore diplomatic relations with the communist island, especially since Obama made no effort to reach out to Miami leaders prior to his announcement.

Obama is the first president to pay his respects to the shrine, according to the Archdiocese of Miami. It’s named after the patroness saint of Cuba.

Hola,” he told 13 worshipers seated in the church pews when he walked in. The Rev. Juan Rumin Dominguez guided the president, along with Cristina Brito, who served as interpreter.

More here.

This post has been updated.

May 27, 2015

Politico: Was that Barack Obama strolling through streets of Havana? LOL

Politico called it "Faux-bama's" tour of Havana.

See for yourself in this photo gallery of Cuban performance artist René Francisco Rodríguez, who last week was seen walking the streets and sipping mojitos in bars dressed as the U.S. president. According to The Telegraph, Rodríguez decided to dress like Obama and record the reaction he received as part of an art performance.

May 20, 2015

Marco Rubio pens Miami Herald op-ed on Cuban independence day

From Wednesday's Miami Herald:

As we mark Cuban Independence Day this Wednesday, we must never forget that the only true form of independence for the Cuban people is freedom and democracy, and we must recommit our state and nation to the goal of helping them achieve that vital objective.

I am the proud son of Cuban-American parents and was raised in a community of Cuban exiles. The trajectory of my life has been a product of their support, of true freedom, and of a uniquely American ideal: that where you come from does not determine where you can go or who you can be. Yet just 90 miles from the shores of our nation are men and women of my ancestry and heritage who still do not have freedom. Yet they look to this country for the hope that they someday will.

I believe we must not fail them. In the last decade and a half, every single country in the Western Hemisphere has had a free and fair election at some point except for one: Cuba. The United States has always stood on the side of peoples around the world who yearn for freedom. But today, our president has decided to take a different approach. Not only has he forsaken our duty to advocate for oppressed peoples, but he has traveled many miles in the opposite direction: going so far as to pay homage to the whims of the very dictatorial regime that denies the freedom of the Cuban people.

More here.

May 19, 2015

How Marco Rubio tells the Elián González story

via @learyreports

Elián González is back in the news, giving an exclusive interview to ABC News and saying he’d like to visit Miami. “I want to take the time to thank the American people for their love,” said Gonzalez, now 21.

Marco Rubio practically watched the infamous raid go down in April 2000, and writes about it in his memoir An American Son.

Rubio was up at 4 a.m. that day due to the cries of his daughter, Amanda. “After I fed her and she had fallen back asleep, I decided to go by the house in Little Havana where Elian was staying. I expected something could happen that morning, and I wanted to be there to see it," he wrote.

He made the short drive through quiet streets and saw a police car blocking an intersection. “Seconds later several vans sped past me toward the house. I waited in my car at the intersection, and a few minutes later, the same vans sped by me again traveling in the opposite direction. I parked my car and sprinted the three blocks to the house. Hundreds of people were wandering around in disbelief, many of them coughing and looking for a hose to wash pepper spray off their faces. Media trucks and camera crews were everywhere.”

Continue reading "How Marco Rubio tells the Elián González story" »

May 18, 2015

Elián González, now 21, tells ABC News he'd like to visit Miami


Elián González, the 6-year-old boy who was on every Miami television screen in 2000, made his way back to American airwaves Monday morning.

In an interview with Jim Avila of ABC News, he opened up about his his life in Cuba and his feelings toward the United States.

“I want to take the time to thank the American people for their love,” González said in English.

Elián first came into the public eye in 1999 when fishermen found him clinging to an inner tube in the Atlantic. A boat carrying his mother and 10 other Cubans fleeing the country capsized, killing everyone aboard — except the young boy.

“I was floating alone in the middle of the sea, that’s the last thing I remember,” he told ABC in the first of several interviews airing through the day and evening.

His rescue led to an international custody battle between his father, Juan Miguel González, and his Miami relatives who took him in.

The standoff ended in April 2000 when armed federal agents entered the Miami home where Elián was staying and seized the boy. Within hours, he was on a plane back to Cuba.

That 6-year-old boy is now a 21-year-old man with a beard and a fiancée.

In the interview, he said that he is not angry with his American relatives. He even added that he would like to visit the United States one day.

He also said he would visit his family in Miami again — under one condition that the network did not immediately reveal.

Part of the interview aired early on Good Morning America. Other parts will air Monday evening onWorld News Tonight with David Murr and on Nightline.

May 07, 2015

Alan Gross favors Cuba rapprochement at Miami Beach fundraiser

via @ngameztorres

The newly formed New Cuba political action committee, which will raise money to promote travel and trade with the island, has found an unexpected spokesman: Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor who was imprisoned for five years in Cuba and wants to return to play "a constructive role" as the two countries resume closer ties.

"Alan would like to return to Cuba to assist in the rebuilding of the relationship between our countries and to play a constructive role and I applaud him for that," said his attorney Scott Gilbert.

"He has a great fondness for the people of Cuba. In fact, when I visited him in jail and talked about these issues, he told me clearly and consistently that he bears no ill will of any kind toward the people of Cuba and he supports more open relationships between our countries,” Gilbert said. “Like other great individuals in history, Alan has transcended his imprisonment, his particular situation, and he has tried to look forward and make the world a little better."

Gross was released from prison along with a Cuban informant who worked for the United States and three Cuban intelligence agents jailed in the U.S. last Dec. 17, as a precursor to the most significant change in U.S. policy toward Cuba in five decades.

Gilbert hosted the inaugural event of the New Cuba PAC on Monday night at his residence on Miami Beach. Gross did not make any public comments during his visit to South Florida.

More here.