January 06, 2015

Marco Rubio to Obama: Don't meet with Cuba until we know more about released political prisoners

@PatriciaMazzei

The Obama administration has scheduled to hold diplomatic talks with Cuba later this month, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio wants the president to put them off.

Rubio sent President Barack Obama a letter Tuesday urging him to cancel any U.S.-Cuba normalization talks until Cuba makes more information available about the 53 political prisoners it was supposed to release. 

"To date, no information has been provided about the political prisoners to be released -– regarding their identities, conditions or whereabouts, even on a confidential basis, to members of Congress," Rubio wrote.

"Just yesterday, your own State Department was unable to provide an explanation about the political prisoners in question. How is the United States supposed to hold the Cuban dictatorship responsible for the well-being of these political prisoners if your Administration is unable or unwilling to provide this transparency?"

The Republican senator opposes the Democratic president's rapprochement with Cuba as a whole, not just this month's talks. As he considers a presidential run, that position might put Rubio at odds with much of the country, which supports closer ties to the island. But keeping the issue at the forefront is key for Rubio's Cuban-American base in South Florida -- and stresses his interest in foreign policy, which other potential GOP candidates may lack.

Read the full letter after the jump.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio to Obama: Don't meet with Cuba until we know more about released political prisoners" »

December 23, 2014

Pro-embargo, Cuba hardline is a minority stance in U.S., polls show

@MarcACaputo

The polling is in: Cuban exile hardliners and Republicans are in the clear minority nationwide when it comes to the embargo and reestablishing ties with the island nation.

A raft of new surveys, taken after President Barack Obama announced plans Wednesday to normalize relations with Cuba, shows far more Americans want the sanctions lifted and relations improved compared to those who favor current U.S. policy — namely Republicans and many Cuban-Americans.

But there’s one aspect of U.S. Cuba policy that Cuban-Americans, rank-and-file Republicans nationwide and Americans in general agree on: Easing travel restrictions to the island.

The surveys are unwelcome — but not unexpected news — to embargo supporters, mostly centered in South Florida where two potential presidential candidates, former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, have been outspoken about strengthening the embargo.

“We’ve found that the more information people learn about what happens in Cuba, the more they are to support U.S. policy,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, the nation’s premier political action committee that supports the exile community.

“That’s always been the challenge: Informing people,” Claver-Carone said. “We’re a small community, yes, but we have a big megaphone.”

And in America at large, Republicans’ and the Cuban-American community’s attitudes about Cuba policy are decidedly in the minority, according to a comparison of national polls from CNN/ORC International, Langer Research/ABC-Washington Post, Reuters/Ipsos, CBS and a Bendixen & Amandi International survey conducted last week for The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and the Tampa Bay Times.....

Normalizing relations:

ABC/Langer: Americans back it 64-31 percent; while the GOP is split 49-47 percent. “Very conservative” respondents’ support was lacking, 36-61 percent.

CNN/ORC: Americans support, 63-33 percent; while GOP support is split, 45-51 percent.

Reuters/Ipsos: Americans back it 45-22 percent, while GOP support is 31-38 percent. Reuters is the only online survey.

Herald/Bendixen: Cuban-Americans oppose normalization, 48-44 percent, an inside-the-error margin tie in the poll of 400 Cuban-Americans. It showed Republican Cuban-Americans oppose it 79-11 percent.

CBS: Americans back it 54-28 percent. CBS did not provide political party data. All the national polls surveyed about 1,000 people and have an error margin of 3.5 percentage points. The Republican polling numbers have a larger error margin.

Embargo

ABC/Langer: Americans want it ended, 68-29 percent; while Republicans want it ended 57-40 percent. But “very conservative” support is lowest at 42-57 percent.

CNN/ORC: Americans want it ended, 55-40 percent; while Republicans want it ended 44-52 percent.

Reuters/Ipsos: Americans want it ended, 40-26 percent; while Republicans want it ended 28-41 percent.

Herald/Bendixen: Cuban-Americans want it discontinued, 44-40 percent; while Cuban-American Republicans wanted it to remain in place, 70-18 percent.

Travel restrictions

ABC/Langer: Americans want them ended, 74-24 percent, with Republicans at 64-33 percent and the “very conservative” at 51-47 percent.

CNN/ORC: Americans want them changed, 67-32 percent, with Republicans at 58-40 percent.

Herald/Bendixen: Cuban-Americans want them eased, 47-39 percent, with Republican Cuban-Americans oppose easing, 56-26 percent.

More here

Mario Diaz-Balart's claim about what Obama said about normalizing relations with Cuba in 2008

President Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States and Cuba would proceed toward normalized relations put Miami’s Cuban-American GOP Congressional delegation in the national spotlight.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Reps Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen held a press conference Dec. 18 to bash Obama’s announcement.

Diaz-Balart characterized Obama’s position as a significant change from what he said during the 2008 campaign.

Back in 2008, during Obama’s first White House bid, the future president said that "before normalization would take place, there would have to be liberation of all political prisoners and some basic steps toward freedom, including freedom of the press, political parties, labor unions, etc.," Diaz-Balart said at the press conference. "Then, once again, President Obama -- breaking his own word, breaking his own pledge -- has decided to do something absolutely without precedent, and that is to give an anti-American terrorist dictatorship exactly what they have been asking for."

Is Diaz-Balart correct about what Obama, then a senator, said would be his criteria for normalizing relations with Cuba? We went back to his campaign speeches and statements to find out. See what PolitiFact Florida found.

 

Does the U.S. already have the biggest diplomatic presence in Cuba? PunditFact says that's hard to prove

Critics of President Barack Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba have suggested they will do whatever they can to stand in the plan’s way, from holding up the appointment of an ambassador to denying funding for a new embassy.

But the moves would be more symbolic than anything, Obama’s former Cuba policy adviser Dan Restrepo told CNN.

While the Senate could block the formal confirmation of an ambassador, Obama could tap a career diplomat to lead the embassy without Senate approval. And as for the embassy itself?

"The U.S. has the largest diplomatic presence of any country in Cuba in Havana today," Restrepo told Anderson Cooper on Dec. 17. "The U.S. interests section is the largest diplomatic gathering in the country. It’s housed in the building that was the U.S. embassy before we broke off diplomatic relations. So the notion that you’re going to shut that operation down when really what you’re doing is changing the sign on the door doesn’t really square up with reality."

The idea that the United States already has the largest diplomatic presence in Cuba sounds shocking given our five-decade embargo of the island nation. So we wanted to learn more. Turn to Katie Sanders report from PunditFact.

 

December 22, 2014

Obama's claim about the cost of each Gitmo inmate

On his second day in office in 2009, President Barack Obama ordered that the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be closed within a year.

But it remains open nearly six years later, largely because of a difficulties figuring out what to do with the detainees who remain there.

On CNN’s State of the Union Dec. 21, 2014, host Candy Crowley asked Obama if the detention facility will be closed by the end of 2015.

"I’m going to be doing everything I can to close it," Obama said. "It is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world, the fact that these folks are being held. It is contrary to our values, and it is wildly expensive. We’re spending millions for each individual there."

We wondered: Are American taxpayers spending millions of dollars per year for every detainee held in Cuba?

Turn to Lauren Carroll's fact-check from PunditFact.

Cuban spy's sperm, spirited out of U.S. prison, preceded prisoner swap

From CNN

It might be the most bizarre of the closely guarded secrets from last week's historic agreement between the United States and Cuba: How did the leader of a Cuban spy ring serving life in a California federal prison manage to impregnate his wife 2,245 miles away in Havana?

As part of the most significant diplomatic breakthrough between the United States and Cuba in more than 50 years, a prisoner swap was made. To uphold its part of the bargain, the U.S. released three Cuban spies, including Gerardo Hernandez, the head of the spy ring known as the Wasp Network....

The U.S. Justice Department confirmed the story, without going into the details.

"We can confirm the United States facilitated Mrs. Hernandez's request to have a baby with her husband," spokesman Brian Fallon said.

More here

President Obama brings hope to Cuba, but will Castro bring real change?

@MarcACaputo

The U.S. president who brought us a hope-and-change campaign has helped spread the same message to Cuba after announcing the two countries would try to normalize relations.

But it’s likely Cuba will experience far more hope and far less change, at least in the short term.

Blame the Castro government for that. It doesn't want to change.

Raul Castro said as much on Wednesday, when he and Barack Obama simultaneously made the historic announcement of détente between the Cold War foes. Castro made sure to suggest socialism was in Cuba to stay, that he wasn’t “renouncing any of our principles.”

“The heroic Cuban people,” Castro said Wednesday, “will continue to be faithful to our ideals of independence and social justice.”

Putting aside the irony of a totalitarian state’s leader talking about “social justice,” Castro’s speech Wednesday was notable not just for what he said, but for how he said it — in his green army fatigues. The message was clear: the revolution lives. Cuba remains in a state of battle.

In war, truth is often the first casualty. But to Castro’s credit he has been honest about his intentions to remain wedded to a financial system that doesn’t work for the people, only for the select group of political-military elites who live like princes while their countrymen scrounge for food.

More here

December 19, 2014

Poll: Cuban-Americans split on Obama’s Cuba policy, divided along generational lines

Cuban-Americans nationwide are almost evenly divided over support for the embargo and for President Obama’s effort to normalize relations with Cuba, according to a new poll that shows a vast generational divide in reaction to this week’s historic announcement.

The poll by Bendixen & Amandi International also showed that Cuban-Americans are nearly split on whether Obama should have exchanged prisoners Wednesday with Raul Castro’s communist government.

But they strongly disapprove of Obama’s foreign policy overall and his approach to Cuba specifically, according to the poll of 400 Cuban-Americans conducted for The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and the Tampa Bay Times.

Among the strongest responses from Cuban-Americans: Whether the United States should remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror. That move is opposed by 60 percent, with only 22 percent in favor. The Obama administration is reviewing Cuba’s designation.

“The Cuban people will not see any benefits,” poll respondent Gabriel Rivera, a 40-year-old Miami resident, said of Obama’s announcement. “They will remain in the same condition because the Cuban government doesn’t grant any freedoms.”

More here

Marco Rubio and Rand Paul trade shots on TV, Twitter and Facebook over Cuba

@MarcACaputo

As they jockey for possible presidential bids, Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are taking aim at each other on TV, Twitter and Facebook over Cuba policy.

Paul "doesn't know what he's talking about," Rubio says.

Rubio is an out-of-touch "isolationist," Paul says.

Even if the two don't run against each other, it certainly makes the GOP caucus in the U.S. Senate a potential viper pit -- especially because Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wants to run and incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he supports Rubio's hardline on Cuba but that he also backs his fellow Kentucky senator, Paul.

It started after President Obama and Raul Castro on Wednesday jointly announced efforts to normalize relations. The decision was anathema to Rubio, whose political identity is rooted in the conservative exile politics of Miami and its support for toughening the embargo against Cuba.

But while Republican presidential candidates lined up to echo Rubio's position, Paul on Thursday sided more with Obama, noting many U.S. farmers support the idea of more Cuba trade because it's a new market for their crops.

"The 50-year embargo just hasn't worked," Paul said in a radio interview with Tom Roten of News Talk 800 WVHU in Huntington, West Virginia. "If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn't seem to be working, and probably, it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship."

Paul pointed out that many younger Cuban-Americans support his point of view, which is probably true.

"In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea," he said.

Rubio, appearing Thursday on FOX, then blasted Paul for being ignorant. Here's the transcript, as found on Breitbart:

"He [Paul] has no idea what he’s talking about. And I’ll tell you why. Number one, the embargo on Cuba is an embargo that, quite frankly, has a bunch of holes in it. To give you an example, the United States is still one of Cuba’s largest trading partners, even now with the embargo, all sorts of commercial products and humanitarian products, like foodstuffs and other things are available in Cuba. Americans travel there all the time on what they call cultural exchanges. A bunch of Americans travel there by the way in violation of the embargo through third countries, Cuban-Americans can travel as many times as they want. They can send a lot of money back to Cuba to their relatives. What’s hurting the Cuban people is not the embargo, what’s hurting the Cuban people is the Cuban government. Look, Venezuela’s economy looks like Cuba’s economy now, you can’t even buy toilet paper in Caracas, and there’s no embargo on Venezuela. What Venezuela has in common with Cuba is they both have adopted radical socialist governmental policies…the embargo is not what’s hurting the Cuban people. it’s the lack of freedom and the lack of competent leaders."

Paul came back Friday on Twitter, and called out Rubio's handle: "The United States trades and engages with other communist nations, such as China and Vietnam. So @marcorubio why not Cuba?"

Then Paul took to Facebook: "Seems to me, Senator Rubio is acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat. I reject this isolationism.”

“Senator Marco Rubio believes the embargo against Cuba has been ineffective, yet he wants to continue perpetuating failed policies,...After 50 years of conflict, why not try a new approach? The United States trades and engages with other communist nations, such as China and Vietnam. Why not Cuba? I am a proponent of peace through commerce, and I believe engaging Cuba can lead to positive change...Finally, let’s be clear that Senator Rubio does not speak for the majority of Cuban-Americans. A recent poll demonstrates that a large majority of Cuban-Americans actually support normalizing relations between our countries.”

Your move, Sen. Rubio....

Campaigning on Cuba issues is no longer so straightforward in Florida

@MarcACaputo

Talking about U.S. policy toward Cuba used to be relatively easy for politicians in Florida: say “Cuba libre” or “Cuba sí, Castro no.”

Support for sanctions and the embargo was a given.

But no longer.

The reaction to President Barack Obama’s historic announcement Wednesday to try to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba was the latest sign yet that attitudes in the Cuban-American community are changing or, at least, are far more complex than many would think.

Less than half of Cuban-Americans — 47 percent to be exact — favored the embargo in a Latino Decisions poll of 400 highly likely Florida Hispanic voters taken in the final days of the 2014 elections.

Opposition to the embargo stood at 39 percent among likely Cuban-American voters — a result that Latino Decisons pollster Gary Segura found surprisingly high. “The Cuban-American leadership that supports the embargo has to be in a panic over this,” he said.

The poll also showed that only 33 percent of Cuban-American respondents said the embargo was very important. But 32 percent said the issue was not important.

So the intensity of those voters who favor the embargo isn’t overwhelming, according to the poll.

The Latino Decisions poll echoes results from Florida International University’s annual Cuba poll. FIU’s last survey, in May, found 51 percent of Cuban-American voters favored the embargo in Miami-Dade County, which has the nation’s largest concentration of people of Cuban descent, nearly 900,000 people.

More here