August 15, 2016

Ted Cruz pens Miami Herald op-ed on 'misguided' Obama Cuba policy

Former Republican presidential candidate and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, writing in the Miami Herald op-ed pages:

I had the honor recently to meet with Cuban dissident Oscar Biscet, who was visiting the United States to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom that President George W. Bush had awarded him in 2007. Then serving a 25-year prison sentence for promoting human rights in Cuba, Dr. Biscet originally had to accept the award in absentia. But following his 2011 release, he was here in person.

I asked Dr. Biscet if his ability to leave the island was emblematic of political liberalization after normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States just over a year ago. Smiling, this man who has endured savage torture by Raúl and Fidel Castro’s police state said No. There was no liberalization. The Castros were just trying to appear reasonable so they could get the most money possible out of tourists coming to the island.

Didn’t Americans understand, he asked in genuine amazement, that their dollars were going to enrich the Communist regime? The answer is, once again, No. American tourists and industries are tripping over themselves to visit Cuba and project themselves onto a 1950s movie set, all while imagining their commerce trickles down to the Cuban people.

More here.

July 28, 2016

Trump execs traveled to Cuba, Bloomberg reports

From Bloomberg Businessweek:

On an afternoon late last year, the golfers teeing off included a group of U.S. executives from the Trump Organization, who have the enviable job of flying around the world to identify golf-related opportunities. The company operates 18 courses in four countries, including Scotland and the United Arab Emirates. It would like to add Cuba. Asked on CNN in March if he’d be interested in opening a hotel there, Donald Trump said yes: “I would, I would—at the right time, when we’re allowed to do it. Right now, we’re not.” On July 26 he told Miami’s CBS affiliate, WFOR-TV, that “Cuba would be a good opportunity [but] I think the timing is not right.”

That, however, hasn’t stopped some of his closest aides from traveling to Cuba for years and scouting potential sites and investments. The U.S. trade embargo, first established in 1962, prohibits U.S. citizens from traveling to the island. But over the years, the U.S. has carved out allowances for family visits, journalism, and other social causes. Most commercial activity is still forbidden, though, with a few exceptions, such as selling medical supplies or food. Golf isn’t on that list.

Trump Organization executives and advisers traveled to Havana in late 2012 or early 2013, according to two people familiar with the discussions that took place in Cuba and who spoke on condition of anonymity. Among the company’s more important visitors to Cuba have been Larry Glick, Trump’s executive vice president for strategic development, who oversees golf, and Edward Russo, Trump’s environmental consultant for golf. On later trips, they were joined by Jason Greenblatt, the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, and Ron Lieberman, another Trump golf executive. Glick, Greenblatt, and Lieberman didn’t respond to requests for interviews. Melissa Nathan, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, declined to answer a list of detailed questions.

More here.

July 19, 2016

Chris Christie says Clinton is 'guilty' on Cuba policy


CLEVELAND -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took the Republican National Convention stage pledging to prosecute a case against Hillary Clinton on foreign policy. And in what he called his "evidence," Christie talked about Cuba -- the first time the island's been mentioned at the presidential nominating convention.

Now we go to Cuba. Hillary Clinton supported concessions to the Castro brothers and got almost nothing in return for ending the embargo. She supported a deal that didn’t even require this murderous regime to return a cop killer, JoAnne Chesimard, to face justice. See, I know about this personally: Chesimard murdered a New Jersey State Trooper in cold blood, fled to Cuba and lives there to this very day.

I want to ask you: How can someone live with your own conscience when you reward a domestic terrorist with continued safety and betray the family of fallen police officer waiting for decades for justice for his murder? So let's ask the question: Hillary Clinton, as coddler of the brutal Castro brothers and betrayer of the family of fallen Trooper Werner Foerster and his family, is she guilty or not guilty?

The crowd responded with a resounding, "Guilty!"

July 13, 2016

Lawmakers want to block U.S. flights to Cuba

via @FrancoOrdonez

WASHINGTON -- A group of U.S. lawmakers want to block the Obama administration’s efforts to open up the United States airways to flights from Cuba. Citing concerns about Cuba’s security infrastructure, four members of Congress, including three Republicans and a Democrat, have officially called for a halt to the recently announced commercial flights between the United States and the communist nation until a closer review of security measures at Cuba’s efforts can be conducted.

"How can this administration guarantee the American people there won't be a security threat on one of those planes?” said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C. a former chair of the Transportation Security subcommittee.

U.S. Department of Transportation announced last week that ten cities, including four in Florida, and eight airlines won tentative U.S. government approval to schedule commercial air service between the United States and Havana, Cuba. Last month, the department awarded approval to six airlines to nine other Cuban cities.

The addition of commercial flights to Cuba are seen as one of the biggest steps the White House has taken to loosen the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba since Dec. 17, 2014, when President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro announced that they would take steps to normalize relations.

The administration has also eliminated limits on remittances, restored direct mail and allowed American companies to sell to Cuba on credit.

More here.

May 25, 2016

CBO report says ending automatic Cuban refugee payments would save money


It seems obvious, but now a nonpartisan report confirms it: Ending automatic welfare payments to Cuban immigrants would save the federal government money.

That’s according to the Congressional Budget Office, which analyzed proposed legislation by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Sen. Marco Rubio, two Cuban-American Republicans.

The CBO estimated the feds would save $2.45 billion over 10 years if recently arrived Cubans were no longer treated automatically as refugees deserving of food stamps and other aid. About $1.05 billion would be saved from 2017-21, and another $1.4 billion from 2022-27.

The savings give Curbelo and Rubio a new selling point for their bill, which they filed to curtail abuse by some Cuban immigrants who send the money back to the island. GOP leaders in Congress — particularly House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — have said they’re not interested in taking up immigration legislation. With the CBO report in hand, Rubio and Curbelo might have better luck pitching their proposal as a way to save money.

More here.

May 03, 2016

Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld is in Cuba, and a Miami congresswoman is not happy about it

Cuba Chanel


Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen knows a thing or two about how to troll on Twitter.

Her account, @RosLehtinen, has spent the past couple of weeks periodically posting about French fashion house Chanel, which plans to hold a runway show Tuesday night in Havana.

Ros-Lehtinen's particular target: designer Karl Lagerfeld, the German haute couture powerhouse heading Chanel's line, "inspired" by Cuba. The congresswoman used the opportunity to highlight repression against Cuba's Ladies in White dissidents.

A sample of her tweets:

Ros-Lehtinen is a vocal opponent of President Obama's reestablished diplomatic relations with the Castro regime. That puts her at odds with Miami Cuban-American superstar musicians Emilio and Gloria Estefan, who told New York Magazine they back the new policy and are happy to see Chanel on the island.

Photo credit: Ramon Espinosa, Associated Press

Poll: Donald Trump would drive Miami Cubans away from GOP


Donald Trump is the catalyst who could force a decisive break between Miami-Dade County’s influential Cuban-American voters and the Republican Party, a new poll has found.

Local Cuban Americans dislike Trump so much — and are increasingly so accepting of renewed U.S.-Cuba ties pushed by Democratic President Barack Obama — that Trump’slikely presidential nomination might accentuate the voters’ political shift away from the GOP, according to the survey shared with the Miami Herald and conducted by Dario Moreno, a Coral Gables pollster and a Florida International University associate politics professor.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents supported Trump, a number that is still higher than the 31 percent who backed Clinton — but also “the lowest in history that any potential Republican candidate polls among this traditionally loyal demographic,” according to Moreno. He added that the results put likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton within “striking distance” of winning over the influential voting demographic. Trump won the March 15 Florida GOP primary in a rout.

“We’ve been seeing demographic changes in this community since 2004,” Moreno said, as younger voters of Cuban descent, and recent Cuban immigrants, have increasingly identified as Democrats or independents. “With Trump, the real danger is that he’s going to accelerate this realignment in Miami.”

Moreno is a Republican who has polled for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, though this poll was not conducted on either politician's behalf.

The pollster acknowledged his own bias against the Republican presidential front-runner: “I can’t vote for Trump,” Moreno said. “I’m not going to vote for Hillary, but I’m not going to vote for Trump.”

More here.

April 18, 2016

Another Florida Senate candidate weighs in on Carnival's Cuba trip


Last week, we polled Florida Senate candidates to find out where they stood on Carnival Corp.'s plan to sail to Cuba even if Cuban-born Americans couldn't go. We found rare, bipartisan agreement against the company's decision. 

But we didn't hear back from Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter until Monday, after Carnival reversed course and said it would accept bookings from Cuban-born Americans and postpone the May 1 cruise if Cuba doesn't change its decree.

Here's what his spokeswoman had to say:

Congressman Murphy would not support Carnival or any company discriminating against individuals based on their ethnicity or country of origin. He is glad that Carnival appears to be reversing their policy today.

The Cuban government needs to modernize its policy, or risk losing American tourism dollars.

Will there be any other issue in the campaign that will draw agreement among all the Republican and Democratic candidates?

Proponents of Cuba engagement to launch Miami Spanish-language radio program

Obama US Cuba


Opening a new front in their political push for closer U.S.-Cuba ties, proponents of Cuba engagement are taking to the medium that for decades has voiced the most strident opposition to their cause: Miami's Spanish-language radio.

The hour-long paid program will debut Tuesday on WQBA-AM (1140), a local station owned by media giant Univision. For its inaugural show, CUBAHORA -- a play on words that translates to "Cuba Now" or "Cuba Hour" -- will feature an interview with former U.S. Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, a Cuban-American Republican who favors normalized relations with the island. Though the program is paid advertising, Tuesday's interviewers will be WQBA anchor José Alfonso Almora, a trusted voice among listeners.

Lengthy paid programming is not unusual on Spanish-language radio, especially during election season, when candidates or their Hispanic surrogates seek to reach older Cuban-American voters who reliably cast ballots (the programs include a disclaimer). But a weekly slot to push the pro-engagement position might still surprise listeners used to anchors with a more hardline editorial bent. Notably, the program won't air on the higher-rated -- and more conservative -- Radio Mambí, WQBA's sister station and Univision's local Spanish-language flagship. (WQBA was once so focused on its Cuban-exile listeners it called itself "La Cubanísima," which loosely translates to "the very Cuban.")

The program is paid for by Cuba Now, a nonprofit group that advocates among other things for lifting the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. Its executive director, Ric Herrero, will provide commentary alongside Almora.

Continue reading "Proponents of Cuba engagement to launch Miami Spanish-language radio program" »

Former Miami U.S. attorney had asked Justice Department to investigate Carnival cruise to Cuba


Before Carnival Corp. announced Monday it would postpone its upcoming cruise to Cuba if Cuban-born Americans couldn't buy tickets, it faced political pressure from all sides -- including, as it turns out, from a one-time Miami federal prosecutor.

Former U.S. Attorney Bob Martinez had asked the Justice Department last week to investigate whether Carnival's trip would violate civil-rights protections. He had tried to book passage on the cruise and was told he couldn't because he was born in Cuba.

"I thought that was pretty outrageous," he said. "It kind of just hits you, like, 'Whoa, what do you mean I can't? I'm a U.S. citizen."

The cruise company had originally planned to set sail even if the Cuban government continued to prohibit Cuban-born Americans from traveling to the island by sea. It now intends to postpone the May 1 voyage if Cuba doesn't lift its decree before then.

"Smart," Martinez said Monday.

Last Thursday, he wrote Attorney General Loretta Lynch. He's yet to get a response but said he knows his letter got read by some DOJ folks.

"That the U.S. civil rights laws prohibit national origin discrimination should not be surprising to anyone, least of all to a major U.S. business, such as Carnival, with its operational headquarters based in Miami, Florida. And yet, that is exactly what Carnival is doing," he wrote. "Shamelessly, Carnival tries to absolve itself from its illegal conduct by pointing its finger at the Cuban Government and blaming it for its discriminatory laws. But, it is Carnival that is playing the role of the Cuban Government police, doing its dirty work by enforcing the Cuban Government's discriminatory laws. Carnival is willing to play that role for business reasons."

In a statement Monday, Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said he expects Cuba to change its regulations.

"We want everyone to be able to go to Cuba with us," he said.

Read Martinez's letter: Letter