March 04, 2016

Ahead of Cuba trip, White House sends Obama adviser to meet with Cuban Americans in Miami


Ahead of President Barack Obama's trip to Cuba, a top White House lieutenant will travel to Miami to meet with leaders of the Cuban-American community, the Miami Herald has learned.

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes will meet with human rights and civil society advocates, faith leaders and business people on March 11. Rhodes helped broker the deal that normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Cuban exiles were left out of the White House's talks, and were shocked to learn the news in December 2014. That has left a lot of hurt feelings from hardliners and longtime Cuban democracy advocates. Rhodes' visit may be the first chance to start addressing those concerns before the president's historic trip March 21.

Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Cuba was canceled Thursday after the U.S. and Cuba disagreed over aspects of Kerry's itinerary, including his ability to meet with dissidents. Kerry will travel with Obama, and the White House said Friday the president will choose whom he wants to meet on the island.

February 29, 2016

A Miami congressional candidate and the evolution of U.S.-Cuba policy


How the politics of Cuba have changed in Miami in recent years.

When Democrat Annette Taddeo first ran for Congress in 2008, she supported keeping the U.S. trade embargo. Now, eight years later, she's running for Congress again, in favor of lifting the embargo and asking voters to sign a petition backing President Barack Obama's visit later this month to Cuba.

She sent supporters an email urging their signature after incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said he was "disappointed" to learn of Obama's trip and asked his own supporters to sign a petition opposing the visit. Republicans may instead counter that she's been a Cuba flip-flopper.

So, for Taddeo, what changed?

"In 2008, I was very much against lifting the embargo, as I think almost everybody was," Taddeo acknowledged in an interview with the Miami Herald.

Five years later, in 2013, she got a call from people trying to arrange meetings on Capitol Hill for Yoani Sánchez, the Cuban blogger who was visiting Washington D.C. Taddeo says she put some together for Sánchez and several U.S. senators, and attended herself.

"She certainly opened up my mind," Taddeo said, crediting Sánchez, who opposes with embargo, with making her rethink her position. "We can go back to just being isolationist, but what I learned was this just hurts the Cuban people."

Continue reading "A Miami congressional candidate and the evolution of U.S.-Cuba policy" »

February 27, 2016

Remembering the last time a U.S. president visited Cuba

Coolidge and Machado in Cuba

via @glenngarvin

No matter what Barack Obama does in Havana next month, his visit just isn’t going to measure up to the one Calvin Coolidge made in 1928. Yeah, that Coolidge, the guy remembered as Silent Cal when he’s remembered at all, the one a reporter once wrote had the perpetual expression of “one who had been weaned on a pickle.”

His visit to Cuba — the last one by an American president — was nonetheless a festival of drunken debauchery, inebriated idiocy, salacious smuggling and even unnatural acts with Key lime pies. The full story didn’t emerge for 30 years, when a reporter finally spilled the beans on a tale with “elements of pageantry, drama, comedy and farce; of ponderous dignity and unseemly revelry; of silk-hatted diplomacy with a dash of dipsomania.”

Lest President Obama get the wrong idea of what’s expected of U.S. leaders when visiting Cuba, we should probably note at this point that President Coolidge himself did not partake (well, there was an incident with hookers that we’ll get back to, but mostly) of the depravity.

Though some Cubans thought they saw the president himself slinking through Havana’s back-alley dives, incongruously wearing a top hat, they were mistaken, victims of a practical-joke impression of Coolidge by an American reporter who resembled the president. And you thought the mainstream media was rough on presidents these days.

But we’re getting ahead of the story. Until Obama announced a couple of weeks ago that he was going to Cuba, practically nobody remembered Coolidge’s 1928 trip. Yet at the time, it was a big, big deal, and even had parallels to today. Coolidge, too, was a lame-duck president looking to cap his stay in the White House with a signature foreign-policy achievement.

More here.

February 20, 2016

President Obama devotes weekly address to Cuba visit


"Nos vemos en La Habana," President Barack Obama said Saturday in his weekly address, which he devoted to his upcoming visit to Cuba. See you in Havana.

Read his remarks in full:

Hi, everybody.  This week, we made it official—I’m going to Cuba.

When Michelle and I go to Havana next month, it will be the first visit of a U.S. president to Cuba in nearly 90 years.  And it builds on the decision I made more than a year ago to begin a new chapter in our relationship with the people of Cuba.

You see, I believe that the best way to advance American interests and values, and the best way to help the Cuban people improve their lives, is through engagement—by normalizing relations between our governments and increasing the contacts between our peoples.  I’ve always said that change won’t come to Cuba overnight.  But as Cuba opens up, it will mean more opportunity and resources for ordinary Cubans.  And we’re starting to see some progress.

Today, the American flag flies over our embassy in Havana, and our diplomats are interacting more broadly with the Cuban people.  More Americans are visiting Cuba than at any time in the last 50 years—Cuban-American families; American students, teachers, humanitarian volunteers, faith communities—all forging new ties and friendships that are bringing our countries closer.  And when direct flights and ferries resume, even more of our citizens will have the chance to travel and work together and know each other.

American companies are starting to do business in Cuba, helping to nurture private enterprise and giving Cuban entrepreneurs new opportunities.  With new Wi-Fi hotspots, more Cubans are starting to go online and get information from the outside world.  In both our countries, there’s overwhelming support for this new relationship.  And in Cuba today, for the first time in a half century, there is hope for a different future, especially among Cuba’s young people who have such extraordinary talent and potential just waiting to be unleashed.

My visit will be an opportunity to keep moving forward.  I’ll meet with President Castro to discuss how we can continue normalizing relations, including making it easier to trade and easier for Cubans to access the Internet and start their own businesses.  As I did when I met President Castro last year, I’ll speak candidly about our serious differences with the Cuban government, including on democracy and human rights.  I’ll reaffirm that the United States will continue to stand up for universal values like freedom of speech and assembly and religion.

I’ll meet with members of Cuba’s civil society—courageous men and women who give voice to the aspirations of the Cuban people.  I’ll meet with Cuban entrepreneurs to learn how we can help them start new ventures.  And I’ll speak directly to the Cuban people about the values we share and how I believe we can be partners as they work for the future they want.

We’re still in the early days of our new relationship with the Cuban people.  This transformation will take time.  But I’m focused on the future, and I’m confident that my visit will advance the goals that guide us—promoting American interests and values and a better future for the Cuban people, a future of more freedom and more opportunity.

Thanks everybody.  And to the people of Cuba—nos vemos en La Habana.

February 18, 2016

Poll of Miami congressional district shows narrow support for President Obama's Cuba policy


In December, on the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's diplomatic opening toward Cuba, a Miami Democratic consultant commissioned a local poll to, among other things, gauge the policy's popularity.

The survey, of a newly redrawn Miami congressional district represented by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, showed narrow support -- 47-43 percent -- for a hypothetical congressional candidate who favored normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations and lifting the trade embargo, according to results shared with the Miami Herald by consultant Christian Ulvert.

Democrats were far more likely to back the policy change (68 percent) than Republicans (30 percent) and voters without party affiliation (44 percent). That nearly a third of Republicans would be OK with ending the embargo is particularly noteworthy in South Florida, the heart of the hard-line Cuban exile community, where reactions were divided Thursday to the White House's announcement that Obama plans to travel to the island next month.

The poll was conducted by SEA Polling & Strategic Design between Dec.17-21. It surveyed 400 likely voters, with a slightly Republican-leaning sample, and has an error margin of 4.9 percent.

"The poll I commissioned in late December shows how voters in CD-27 continue to embrace the leadership President Obama has shown to bring meaningful and democratic change to the Cuban people through normalizing relations with the island," Ulvert said in a statement. "CD-27 voters appreciate that the failed policies over the last 50 years have not resulted in a free and democratic Cuba, so voters see great opportunity in President Obama being a voice for a new democracy in Cuba and through deep coordination with Cuban-American civic and elected leaders in South Florida, we can achieve that dream for Cuba."

The same poll showed that Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American who stridently opposes any rapprochement with the Castro regime, remains highly popular in her district, even now that it's filled with more Democrats. Her favorability rating was 61-27 percent, with 6 percent of respondents holding a mixed view of the congresswoman and 6 percent saying they didn't know. So even if a majority of voters disagree with her on Cuba, it appears very unlikely that the longtime incumbent would draw any serious opposition.


Marco Rubio wants President Obama to 'reconsider' Cuba trip


Marco Rubio's Senate office sent President Barack Obama a letter Thursday urging him to "reconsider" his trip to Cuba next month.

The Florida Republican argued Obama's visit "will send the message to the oppressed Cuban people that you stand with their oppressors."

Here's the text of Rubio's letter:

Continue reading "Marco Rubio wants President Obama to 'reconsider' Cuba trip" »

February 17, 2016

Miami politicians react to Obama's planned visit to Cuba


News of President Barack Obama's impending trip to Cuba -- in March, sources told the Miami Herald -- prompted quick backlash from Miami politicians, many of them of Cuban descent.

Here's reaction, which we will update as it comes in:

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is running for president


Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who is running for president


Continue reading "Miami politicians react to Obama's planned visit to Cuba" »

Sources: Obama plans to visit Cuba next month

via @HeraldMimi

As part of his opening to Cuba, President Barack Obama is expected to visit the island in March, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to travel there in almost 90 years, sources said Wednesday.

The president is expected to arrive March 21, sources said. That timetable would put him in Cuba during a week when Havana is awash in special events. On the 20th, the Rolling Stones are expected to conclude their Latin America tour with a concert in Cuba and on March 22, Cuba’s national baseball team will play the Tampa Bay Rays in Havana. It’s unclear whether the president will attend the baseball game.

ABC News reported Wednesday that the National Security Council will make the official announcement at a White House briefing Thursday. The network also reported that Obama will stop in Cuba on his way to Argentina.

Obama’s critics were quick to condemn the visit.

“If true, it is absolutely shameful that Obama is rewarding the Castros with a visit to Cuba by a sitting American president since their reign of terror began,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami. “A visit by President Obama more than one year after his unilateral concessions to the regime will only legitimize the Castros’ repressive behavior.”

More here.

February 13, 2016

Donald Trump on giving Cuban immigrants legal status: 'Why would that be a fair thing?'

via @adamsmithtimes

Donald Trump is still pumped up Friday night as he hops inside the Secret Service vehicle whisking him away from a crowd of at least 10,000 fans at USF’s Sun Dome.

“Look at the spirit out there!” he gushes as we swing past waving supporters. “Did you stand there in that room and feel that kind of response?”

A big part of Trump’s appeal is that he speaks like a regular guy instead of a cautious politician. During a ride to the airport he invited me to join, the billionaire presidential front-runner is gracious and warm, every bit the accessible everyman. No press handlers butting in, no candidate shying away from politically dicey issues and little skittishness about winging it on matters to which he has paid scant attention.

It’s like talking to your amiable and opinionated uncle in New Jersey about stuff going on in Florida — but in this case your uncle is poised to become the Republican presidential nominee.

Trump, 69, repeatedly steers the conversation back to the size of his crowds and vast support across red and blue states, asking nearly as many questions as he answers. But during the 16-minute ride to a private plane awaiting him, he disparages both Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, sounds skeptical about increased offshore drilling and praises Gov. Rick Scott.

Is it fair that Cubans who arrive in America automatically get legal status, a path to citizenship and benefits such as Social Security, when other foreign-born people don’t?

“I don’t think that’s fair. I mean why would that be a fair thing?” responds Trump, an answer his rivals are likely to remind him of when campaigning in Miami-Dade County, where thousands of residents fled political persecution in Cuba.

More here.

February 07, 2016

How Cuban exiles ended up with 2 of their own as Republican presidential contenders

Primary Pixels Photo Gallery(2) (1)


NASHUA, N.H. -- For 50 years Cuban exiles have dreamed of the day they would elect one of their own to be president of Cuba.

This year they might actually see one elected — to be president of the United States.

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both sons of Cuban immigrants, head into Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary as two of the Republican Party’s top contenders for the 2016 nomination. That one of them could win marks an exceptional feat for a community only two generations removed from political exile.

“This race could come down to the two of them,” said former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican backing Jeb Bush for president who was the first Cuban-American in the U.S. Senate. “It’s really remarkable.”

Last week, Cruz became the first Hispanic in history to win the Iowa caucuses. Together, he and Rubio took more than half the vote —nearly 51 percent — in a state not known for its ethnic diversity.

Yet there were few headlines proclaiming Cruz’s win and Rubio’s third-place finish as a victory for Latinos.

“Where is the media on this, right?” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Tuesday on Fox News. “I mean, this is a big deal.”

It is. But Cruz and Rubio themselves didn’t play it up. They don’t campaign as trailblazing Hispanics.

More here.

Photo credit: Chris Carlson, Associated Press