December 18, 2014

From penniless Cuban exile to billionaire GOP moneyman, Mike Fernandez says Obama's Cuba action 'long overdue'

@MarcACaputo

Mike Fernandez arrived in the United States as a 12-year-old penniless immigrant in 1964 after his family fled Cuba. Today, he's one of Miami's most-respected and influential businessmen, a health-insurance billionaire and a GOP moneyman who dutifully supports fellow Republicans in the area.

Except on one issue today: President Obama's decision to restore diplomatic ties with the regime in Cuba.

"I am not a fan of President Obama but after 50 plus years, this is long overdue," Fernandez, who has just penned a new book called Humbled by the Journey said via email when asked his opinion.

Fernandez's opinion is significant not just because of his party registration and provenance, but because of his age as well. He's 62, old enough to remember the revolution, his father's small sandwich shop in Manzanilla and the life of an immigrant in America. So except for the billions he earned as a health insurance whiz, he's just like most older exiles, who are the most-likely to support the embargo.

Here's his whole statement:

"I feel the pain that Cuban Americans feel. I feel the pain that the Cuban people have been forced to unjustly experience. Trust me, I feel the pain. Having said that, As Americans we lost 58,000 of our sons in Vietnam and 15 years later, we established diplomatic relationships with our former enemy. I am not a fan of President Obama but after 50 plus years, this is long overdue.

History has been written, lives have been lost, millions have suffered but it’s time to turn the page on the 'Cuba book.' Let us focus on helping the Cuban people versus hurting the regime. Biology will soon take care of them."

December 17, 2014

On Cuba, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is out of step with DNC, Obama

@MarcACaputo

Nearly all politicians who support longstanding hardline U.S. policy toward Cuba tend to be Cuban-American, Republican or both.

With one big exception: Weston U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz who happens to be the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. On Wednesday, after President Obama announced an historic deal to thaw the Cold War-era hostilities with Cuba, Wasserman Schultz was eerily quiet.

Then, when Wasserman Schultz spoke, she was clearly out of step with the DNC. Consider the statements each issued and their timing:

Continue reading "On Cuba, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is out of step with DNC, Obama" »

Miami, heart of Cuban exile community, stunned by U.S. policy shift

@PatriciaMazzei @cveiga

The hard line dividing Miami and Havana, drawn more than half a century ago by Cuban exiles who shunned the dictatorship they left behind, suddenly softened Wednesday, leaving two stunned generations of Cuban Americans to grapple with what the future may hold.

President Barack Obama announced he would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba after the communist regime led by Raúl Castro freed American political prisoner Alan Gross and other dissidents. That was welcome news to exiles but the president also agreed to a spy swap, the kind of deal stalwart Castro critics have long opposed.

Shock reverberated through Miami, the heart of the exile community, where detractors lambasted the policy shift — and the Democratic president — for what they called a betrayal. A frenzy of reporters and politicians descended on Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana, a mecca of traditional anti-Castro sentiment.

But only a small crowd had gathered in protest. Miami’s streets, into the early evening, remained quiet.

More here.

Obama and Castro reach historic accord to release prisoners, normalize relations

@MarcACaputo and @MiamiHerald staff

In the biggest change to U.S.-Cuba relations in more than five decades, President Barack Obama and Raúl Castro each announced Wednesday that the Cold War-era enemies are trying to normalize relations and have engaged in a prisoner swap involving two jailed Americans and three Cuban spies.

The mutual prisoner release involved jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross, whose five-year imprisonment had become a symbol of Cuba’s repression and, Obama said, a “major obstacle” in talks between the two nations.

The talks, held in Canada, involved Vatican officials and were spurred by Pope Francis, who had urged rapprochement. Though cheered by many, Obama’s announcement drew condemnation from Castro critics in Miami’s Cuban exile community, where the U.S. president was branded as an “Appeaser in Chief.”

Obama said the U.S. plans to open a U.S. embassy in Havana — closed in 1961 — and would allow for increased travel and cash-remittances by U.S. citizens to the island. Obama also said the U.S. would review whether to designate Cuba a state-terrorism sponsor. Obama said it was time for the U.S. to lift some restrictions. Full story here. 

December 13, 2014

Nicaragua bans Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from travel over Venezuela sanctions

@MarcACaputo

Nicaragua's president says he is banning U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from traveling to the Central American country because, he says, he is protesting the Venezuala sanctions the Republican lawmakers helped pass Wednesday in Congress, according to The Tico Times.

"Just like they [U.S. officials] have their lists, we can make our own lists in Latin America of those who shouldn’t enter our country,” Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega told The Tico Times during a meeting with Venezuelan officials in his country.

Rubio, via Twitter, mocked Ortega's decision: "Oh no! My summer vacation plans are ruined!"

The sanctions, primarily aimed at Venezuelan officials and proxies involved with violently suppressing pro-democracy activists, would ban them from traveling or staying in the United States and would freeze any U.S. assets. President Obama plans to sign the legislation, S2142.

Story here

October 30, 2014

Cuba politics maze traps Joe Garcia, Carlos Curbelo

@PatriciaMazzei

They vowed to be different. They'd sound like a new generation of Miami politicians. They'd shift their focus away from foreign policy. They'd care more about the family down the street than the brothers in power 90 miles across the Florida Straits.

Yet the Cuba politics maze trapped them anyway.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia and Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo have spent the precious last few days of their congressional campaigns dissecting an unusual Spanish-language television advertisement by Garcia that stars a prominent Cuban dissident.

Curbelo and other Miami Cuban Americans have accused Garcia of using Guillermo Fariñas for personal political gain and violating an unwritten rule that shields opponents of the island's Communist regime from internal U.S. politics.

That rule is hardly hard-and-fast. As Florida governor, Republican Jeb Bush once sent a recording of support to a dissident in a Cuban political prison. President Barack Obama met with Fariñas and another opposition leader last year at a Democratic fundraiser in Pinecrest.

Garcia, though, appears to be the first politician to feature a dissident, speaking straight into the camera, in an ad.

More here.

October 28, 2014

Cuba talk unexpectedly dominates last debate in Miami congressional race

@PatriciaMazzei

The hard-fought Miami campaign between U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia and challenger Carlos Curbelo had been noteworthy in part because of how rarely the candidates had brought up the issue of Cuba.

Until Tuesday, that is.

In a bonus, eighth debate a week after what had been billed as the seventh and final debate, the Republican Curbelo and Democrat Garcia spoke at length about what role, if any, Cuban politics should play in Miami politics.

The very discussion showed that, like it or not, the issue remains significant — at least in the waning days of a campaign, when the race remains close and candidates need to ensure that their strongest backers vote.

Triggering the conversation was a political advertisement Garcia debuted on Spanish-language television Monday starring a Cuban dissident.

More here.

Cuban dissident stars in Joe Garcia's latest ad

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia of Miami has campaigned for another congressional term by focusing on bread-and-butter Democratic issues -- Medicare, Social Security, student loans -- and generally avoiding the topic of Cuba.

Yet the star of his latest political advertisement on Spanish-language television is a Cuban dissident.

Guillermo Fariñas staged more than 20 hunger strikes on the Communist island to force the release of political prisoners. He won the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience in 2010 and has advocated for tough U.S. sanctions on Cuba until the island's Communist regime moves toward democracy.

"For decades, Joe Garcia has been a compatriot committed to our fight," Fariñas says in the ad, shot in front of downtown Miami's Freedom Tower.

His appearance prompted a rebuke not only from Garcia's Republican opponent, Carlos Curbelo, but also by other Miami Cuban Americans who questioned whether Fariñas -- who is back in Cuba after a recent Miami visit -- knew he'd be used in a U.S. political campaign. It appears to be the first time a Cuban dissident appears in a U.S. campaign ad.

 

Continue reading "Cuban dissident stars in Joe Garcia's latest ad" »

October 15, 2014

Joe Garcia, Carlos Curbelo and the politics of the Cuban Adjustment Act

@PatriciaMazzei

Could the law that gives Cubans special immigration privileges survive a political debate to change it?

Miami Republican Carlos Curbelo says yes. The man he's trying to unseat, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, says no.

Any revision attempt would be too risky, Garcia argued at a debate Tuesday night, because it would remind lawmakers that immigrants from other nationalities don't get the same treatment as Cubans, who are allowed to legally remain in the U.S. after being here for one year and one day.

"You can't revise it," Garcia said. "If you revise the Cuban Adjustment Act, they will take it away from you."

Curbelo has said the law, enacted by Congress in 1966, should be tightened to apply to victims of political persecution and not just so-called economic refugees, who travel frequently back to the island.

"As an American citizen, I cannot support the abuse of the Cuban Adjustment Act," he said in the debate. "It must be preserved for people who are victims."

Garcia acknowledged the abuse but compared it to an office worker stealing supplies: "That doesn't mean you're going to eliminate all paper clips."

In response, Curbelo dismissed Garcia's "all-or-nothing" approach and tried to paint him as a phony bipartisan for having once referred to Republicans on the House floor as "this Taliban."

The two men are vying to represent Florida's 26th congressional district, where a growing number of voters are non-Cuban Hispanics, such as Venezuelans and Colombians. Garcia said he wished there were a similar immigration law for other groups, particularly Venezuelans. He has asked the Obama administration, to no avail, to let more Venezuelans stay in the U.S.

July 17, 2014

Report of Russian spy base reopening in Cuba puts FL on edge

A report that Russia will reopen a Havana base that eavesdropped on U.S. communications from Key West to Washington has triggered fresh warnings of Moscow’s expansionism and predictions of a continued freeze in U.S.-Cuba relations.

Until its closure in 2002, the Lourdes base was Moscow’s largest intelligence facility abroad, with up to 1,500 KGB and GRU military intelligence officers manning an array of antennas and computers in the super-secret 28 square-mile base.

“If the report is true, there’s no question Washington will put Cuba engagement on the back burner,” said Andy Gomez, a retired Cuba specialist at the University of Miami and now senior policy adviser for the Washington law firm Poblete Tamargo.

Alvaro Alba, a Miami expert on Russia, said reopening Lourdes would underscore President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions and cast a pall on U.S.-Cuba relations as dark as Havana’s imprisonment of U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross since 2009.

Asked why Cuban ruler Raúl Castro would do that when he has repeatedly declared that he wants to improve relations with Washington, Alba added, “Cuba hasn’t cared about the United States in more than 50 years.”

More here