July 08, 2015

'Probably not,' Jeb Bush says about keeping U.S. embassy open in Cuba as president


Jeb Bush, who has opposed President Obama's re-engagement with Cuba, said Wednesday that if he were elected he would likely not keep a U.S. embassy open in Havana.

"Probably not," Bush told the editorial board of the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper.

Embassies in Washington and Havana are slated to open July 20. "I haven't given thought about undoing a work in progress," Bush said.

But he said that while he's willing to give Obama the "benefit of the doubt" about reaching out to opposing governments, he has seen few results from the closer relations with Cuba.

"We're negotiating without getting anything in return," Bush said. "While we're negotiating, the repression has actually increased."

That claim surprised the editorial board. Cuba news is no where near as prominent in New Hampshire as it is in Bush's hometown of Miami, where beatings and detentions attributed to Cuban security forces are regularly denounced by local members of Congress and discussed on Spanish-language media.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Bush rival for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, published an op-ed Wednesday in the New York Times also arguing against Obama's policy.

In a lengthy piece released Wednesday afternoon, Cuba Now, a non-profit that promotes engagement with the island, questioned whether Raúl Castro's regime has in fact become more repressive. While "the human rights situation in the island remains of a grave concern," Cuba Now Executive Director Ric Herrero argued critics have cherry-picked statistics to make things seem worse than they are.

Opponents of the re-engagement have written pieces of their own documenting, among other things, the Cuban regime's ongoing political arrests.

Bush said in New Hampshire that he hears first-hand from his Miami friends and neighbors worried about life on the island. The Union Leader live-streamed the Bush interview online.

"I have a lot of friends who have suffered a lot," he said. 

This post has been updated.

July 07, 2015

Miami Republicans cite attack of dissident as sign Obama Cuba policy isn't working



Two of Miami's Cuban-American Republican members of Congress condemned an attack on a Cuban dissident as a sign that President Obama is foolish to pursue closer relations with the regime on the island.

The beating of Antonio Rodiles, which Rodiles blamed on Cuban security forces, and mass detention of nearly 100 other dissidents Sunday prompted statements in solidarity from U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

"Beating activists committed to the return of democratic rights to the island, such as Rodiles and members of the Ladies in White, show that the Castro regime has no interest in changing," Ros-Lehtinen said Monday. "The opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana demonstrates that the Obama Administration is willing to turn a blind eye  to the sadistic ways of this brutal regime in order to build a presidential legacy."  

"Since President Obama's December 17, 2014 announcement, the Castro regime's brutality against innocent pro-democracy leaders has escalated," Diaz-Balart said. "Predictably, following the President's announcement a few days ago that he will press ahead with opening embassies without any conditions, the human rights abuses in Cuba continue unabated. The Castro regime has been emboldened by President Obama's shameful disinterest in human rights and liberties in Cuba."

Photo courtesy Antonio Rodiles

July 04, 2015

Jeb Bush donor pens Miami Herald op-ed backing thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations


Coral Gables health-care executive Mike Fernandez backs renewed U.S.-Cuba relations, he said in an op-ed published in the Miami Herald -- a significant endorsement from a prominent political backer of 2016 Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush.

Fernandez wrote:

Cuban Americans everywhere, but especially the diaspora in South Florida, have been awakening to the reality that Cuba's isolation was and is not a sustainable strategy.

The case has been made for decades that Cuba’s failure is a self-inflicted wound by its dictatorial leadership.

Unfortunately, those of us born on the island — and in partnership with U.S. policies — provided the strategic scapegoat that perpetuated the cover that allowed the Cuban government to blame the embargo and Washington for all its failures.


Let the embassies open. Let Google and Yahoo, the press and Yoani, and the memory of Paya and many others be the order of the day.

Let’s support the Cuban people’s hunger for a future, a future that has been denied to them for decades now. Let's us be a force of change, not a people of unremitting anger.

My friends, my family, my fellow Cuban Americans, let’s set our people free.

Let us free our minds of hate and memories and thoughts or revenge. 

That's very different from what Bush said this week when President Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro announced the re-opening of embassies in Washington and Havana.

"I oppose the decision to further embrace the Castro regime by opening an embassy in Havana," Bush said in a statement. "The real test of the Obama Administration's rapprochement with the Castro regime in Cuba is not whether President Obama's legacy is burnished with dubious diplomatic achievements and photo-ops, but whether improved relations between Havana and Washington advance the cause of human rights and freedom for the Cuban people.

"The ongoing detention of dissidents and continued human rights abuses suggest the Administration’s policy is failing this test."  

July 01, 2015

Obama announces opening of embassies with Cuba

Casting aside more than a half century of hostilities, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba would restore full diplomatic relations and open respective embassies.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, he called the rapprochement “a historic step” in efforts to bring the two countries and their people together. The president said Secretary of State John Kerry would soon travel to Havana to “proudly raise the U.S. flag over our embassy.”

The United States and Cuba held four rounds of talks — two in Havana and two in Washington — to reach agreement on the terms for opening embassies and renewing diplomatic ties after Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro jointly announced on Dec. 17 that the two countries planned to work toward normalization.

He said that since then he was seen “enormous enthusiasm for this new approach.”

Turn to Mimi Whitefield's story here.

On Cuban embassy news, Marco Rubio restates vow to oppose ambassador


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a key voice opposing the United States’ opening to Cuba, reacted to the news that the two nations are set to establish their embassies by repeating his vow to oppose one of the next steps in the thawing process -- the confirmation of an ambassador to the island nation -- until certain conditions are met.

The opening to Cuba was first announced in December. It 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. On Tuesday, word leaked that the two nations were planning to open embassies in their respective capitals; a formal announcement on that is expected Wednesday.

The thawing could eventually lead to a full lifting of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and open travel there. The White House can accomplish some steps on its own, while Congress would need to weigh in on other aspects.

Rubio, a Republican from West Miami who is in the top tier of GOP presidential candidates for the 2016 nomination, is a leading voice against the Cuban opening. While the politics of the Cuban opening are somewhat mixed, other GOP lawmakers tend to defer to Rubio on the issue.

Continue reading "On Cuban embassy news, Marco Rubio restates vow to oppose ambassador " »

June 25, 2015

FIU would like to establish Cuba presence, but it's treading carefully

via @EmmaBaccellieri

WASHINGTON -- As Cuba and the United States begin to normalize relations, interest is keen on both sides to strike academic partnerships as well.

But amid the sensitive politics of the U.S-Cuba breakthrough and the gulf between the countries over questions of academic freedom, American colleges and universities must tread carefully.

“Anything with Cuba can be controversial,” said Jorge Duany, director of Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute.

The interest, however, is clearly there.

Some 375 American students were in Cuba during the 2010-11 school year when President Barack Obama eased travel restrictions to allow academic work. During 2012-13, there were 1,633, according to the Institute of International Education.

Obama further loosened the rules earlier this year, allowing more expansive work, and several universities have begun formal research and teaching partnerships with their Cuban counterparts.

Florida International University in Miami-Dade is among the schools that would like to establish a strong Cuban presence. The university hosts one of the nation’s leading centers for Cuban studies, and academic work on the island has long been an attractive prospect.

More here.

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'" »