December 21, 2016

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

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@ByKristenMClark

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

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@PatriciaMazzei

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

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@PatriciaMazzei

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

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@PatriciaMazzei

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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@PatriciaMazzei

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

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

@PatriciaMazzei

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

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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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@PatriciaMazzei

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