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.

Read more here:

October 25, 2016

Trump tries to win over Miami Cubans once again

Trump cubans

@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


October 20, 2016

Prominent gay-rights group backs Joe Garcia against Curbelo

NP-JoeGarcia-LBGT-SAVE-102016-006 Joe Garcia DS


A key LBGT organization in South Florida on Thursday endorsed Joe Garcia in his bid to win back from Rep. Carlos Curbelo the House seat that the Miami Republican wrested from him two years ago.

The Miami-based SAVE group, formed in 1993, said it was supporting the Miami Democrat because of his work advocating equality.

"During his term as congressman, Joe served South Florida's LGBTQ community admirably, garnering SAVE's Champion of Equality Award in 2013 for his sponsorship of the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act and his efforts to protect LBGT immigration rights," SAVE said in a statement.

Long before joining the House in January 2013, the group noted that Garcia had led the Cuban American National Foundation, which he then headed, in opposing the repeal of Miami-Dade's human-rights ordinance.

Once in Congress, Garcia served as vice chairman of the LGBT Equality Caucus. He helped pass bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which extended protects against rape and domestic violence to members of the LBGT community.

"One of my guiding principles is that every person should be treated equally," Garcia said Thursday. "That's why I'm honored that SAVE would recognize my work in support of the LGBTQ community."

SAVE's endorsement of Garcia came six days after Log Cabin Republicans, an influential GOP gay-rights group, endorsed Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo of South Florida in their re-election races, along with five other incumbent lawmakers from across the country.



October 18, 2016

Ryan: We're going to keep U.S. embargo against Cuba

Cuba- paul ryan
via @FrancoOrdonez

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Paul D. Ryan left little doubt about his current stance on the Obama administration’s warming ties with the Cuban government. He’s not a fan.

“The Castros continue to jail pro-democracy activists at a rate of hundreds per month, yet it is full steam ahead for the Obama administration’s efforts to appease this oppressive regime,” Ryan said in a statement Tuesday morning.

It’s a bold statement by the speaker and indicating a leadership strong position against President Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Cuban and public campaign to lift the embargo. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, blasted the Obama administration’s latest round of regulatory changes meant to chip away at the U.S. embargo against Cuba and ease trade and travel with the island nation.

The strong rhetoric by Ryan on Cuba appears to be increasing. Ryan has spoken out more in recent years against what he’s called “appeasement” by the Obama administration. It’s a shift after being criticized for his earlier support for lifting the embargo.

More here.

Photo credit: John Hart, Associated Press

October 16, 2016

Cuba, Trump and Miami's most contentious state Senate race


Foreign policy isn't an issue for the Florida state Senate. Yet Cuba came up anyway Sunday in a Spanish-language debate between Republican state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Democratic state Rep. José Javier Rodríguez.

Ambrosio Hernández, host of Univision 23's "Al Punto Florida," asked if they'd be willing to increase state commerce ties with Cuba, given President Barack Obama's renewed diplomatic relationship with the island's communist regime. Both candidates are Cuban American.

No, said Diaz de la Portilla. "There's political prisoners. There's human-rights violations," he said. "It's like doing business with the Mafia."

Rodríguez called the topic "painful" for children of exiles like himself. "I support the measures the president has taken because after 50 years without results, we needed to change, he said.

And then, Rodríguez invoked Donald Trump's reported violation of the Cuban trade embargo in 1998.

"We must be strongly against what Trump did," he said. "My opponent has not said anything, has stayed silent on the deception that Trump engaged in about doing business in Cuba, hiding it and lying to this community."

"I criticize anybody who breaks the law of this country, being Trump or [Hillary] Clinton," Diaz de la Portilla responded. Then, turning to Rodríguez, he added: "I don't know where he's been, because I've criticized [Trump] a lot for this hypocrisy."

Diaz de la Portilla has said he isn't voting for Trump or Clinton.

October 14, 2016

Rubio slams latest Cuba policy changes

via @learyreports

Marco Rubio continues to watch President Obama peel back decades of policy toward Cuba and today blasted new executive actions that will allow travelers to bring back as much Cuban run and cigars as they want (for personal use) and promotes more medical research, among other changes.


"The Obama Administration is making more concessions to the Castro regime, and the United States is getting nothing in return,” Rubio said. “Cash makes the Castro regime's grip on power stronger, its repression harsher and its exportation of misery throughout the hemisphere, especially Venezuela, easier‎. The Obama Administration, in collusion with American companies, is now responsible for essentially bankrolling a communist dictatorship which works each day to undermine America's security and national interests. By encouraging U.S. companies to do business with Cuban military-owned entities, the Obama Administration is giving them an open invitation to violate existing U.S. law.”

The sweeping changes toward Cuba come as politics at home have shifted as well. Hard line Cuban Americans are being replaced with a younger generation that is supportive of change and is voting more Democratic. That increasingly isolates Rubio, 45, whose outrage hasn’t resonated on Capitol Hill.

"After two years of President Obama's Cuba policy, the Castro regime has made out like bandits and received numerous concessions from the U.S. without lifting a finger to return the fugitives it is harboring from American justice, pay Americans for their stolen property, or allow the Cuban people to exercise their God-given freedoms. Today's announcement reaffirms the fact that President Obama's Cuba policy puts the Castro regime's interests first, profits ahead of America's national security, and the Cuban people's rights and dignity dead last."

Obama: "Challenges remain – and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights – but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values. The progress of the last two years, bolstered by today's action, should remind the world of what's possible when we look to the future together."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times