January 21, 2016

Miami-Dade County leaders vote against a (hypothetical) Cuban consulate in Miami

@MrMikeVasquez

Until democracy comes to Cuba, a Cuban consulate should not come to Miami, county leaders proclaimed Wednesday.

In a 9-3 vote, Miami-Dade County commissioners urged the federal government to avoid placing a Cuban consulate on their turf. The talk of a hypothetical consulate in Miami has grown as President Barack Obama pursues warmer relations with the island nation.

Cuba’s embassy in Washington reopened in July. The typical next step would be a U.S. consulate in a city with a large Cuban immigrant population.

Miami obviously fits that description, but County Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo — the son of a Bay of Pigs veteran — says the time is not right. Bovo, who sponsored the county’s anti-consulate resolution Wednesday, said talks between Washington and Havana haven’t produced meaningful changes in how the Cuban government treats its people. The Cuban government is still oppressive, he said, and a consulate location in Miami’s exile community could spark protests, and leave Miami-Dade taxpayers to foot the bill for the cost of protecting consular officials.

“To think for a second, to have the Cuban government here, the dictatorship basically, here in Miami, I think is an affront to a huge majority of the Cuban-American community,” Bovo told the Herald after his measure passed.

Bovo isn’t the only local elected official strongly opposed to the consulate idea. Earlier this week, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said he would sue to block a Cuban consulate from opening within city limits. A 2014 Bendixen & Amandi poll found that Cuban Americans nationally favored the idea of a Miami consulate (50 percent in support, 39 percent opposed) while exiles in Florida were less supportive, with 41 percent in support, and 46 percent opposed.

Bovo’s resolution is largely symbolic, and would not prevent the federal government from placing a consulate wherever it wants, including Miami. The county’s lobbying team in Washington will now have orders to push back against being chosen as a consulate location, and the county’s formal statement in opposition is being transmitted to President Obama, Florida’s congressional delegation and Secretary of State John Kerry.

More here.

January 14, 2016

Facing possible Cuban student influx, Miami-Dade schools ask feds for money

@Cveiga

The Miami-Dade County school district faces a possible influx of students coming from Cuba and wants the federal government to provide additional money to help educate them.

Board members on Wednesday unanimously decided to ask for more funding for schools, where almost 4,000 Cuban students have enrolled in the last six months alone. No number was attached, but Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Miami Herald the cost to educate incoming students could be “upwards of $40 million.”

“This should not force a financial crunch on our school system,” he said. “This can be avoided if our federal government takes action.”

The Pew Research Center says there has been a 78 percent increase in the number of Cubans arriving in the country over the last year. Local municipalities and social service agencies are in preparation mode as an estimated 8,000 Cubans stuck in Costa Rica begin to move towards Mexico. The assumption is that many will end up in the U.S., where Cubans enjoy special immigration status that eases the path to legal residency and citizenship.

“This is not going to be the Mariel boatlift,” Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said in remarks to the school board. “But they’re coming, and they want to come to the City of Miami.”

More here.

January 12, 2016

President Obama to Congress: Lift Cuban embargo

@PatriciaMazzei

President Barack Obama dedicated a (short) paragraph in his final State of the Union address Tuesday to U.S.-Cuba policy. A year ago, he had only just announced his administration's plans to normalize diplomatic relations with the island.

"Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy. It set us back in Latin America," Obama said. "That's why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people. So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over. Lift the embargo."

January 08, 2016

Missing U.S. missile found in Cuba infuriates Marco Rubio, Miami Republicans

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio chided the White House on Friday for failing to inform members of Congress about a missing U.S. Hellfire missile in Cuba's possession.

The Wall Street Journal published the bombshell story late Thursday, prompting Rubio to write the State Department asking what it knew about the missile.

"The fact that the administration, including you, have apparently tried to withhold this information from the congressional debate and public discussion over U.S.-Cuba policy is disgraceful," Rubio wrote to Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Jacobson starred in the Cuba negotiations, and Rubio has been blamed for stalling her nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

"While your bureau is not the primary entity within the State Department handling these issues, you oversee U.S. policy toward Cuba and interactions with Cuban officials," Rubio wrote. "Thus, the fact that members of Congress are reading about Cuba's possession of a U.S. missile in the newspaper rather than from you or other State Department officials is astounding and inexcusable."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about Rubio's letter at a news briefing Friday afternoon. He made a jab at Rubio's missing Senate votes, saying he guessed Rubio "gets most of his information about what's happening in Congress int he newspaper, based on his attendance record."

Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos tweeted that Earnest was being "petty."

Pressed on whether the missile was discussed in talks before the U.S.-Cuba normalization policy was announced, Earnest said he couldn't shed much light, given that the missile's disappearance is under investigation by the state and defense departments.

Separately, four Cuban-American members of Congress, including three Miami Republicans, issued a joint statement calling it "unconscionable" for the U.S. to have pursued normalization talks in spite of the missing missile.

"The Cuban regime rebuffed the President's effort to secure the return of the Hellfire missile even as the negotiations were ongoing, and yet the regime still got everything it could have wanted," wrote Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, and Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat. "It is no wonder that the Castro brothers feel ever more emboldened to continue on with the repression of the Cuban people, with intimidation and unlawful arrests at an alarmingly high rate."

--with Lesley Clark

Cuban Americans in Congress back law to curtail benefits

@PatriciaMazzei

Six Cuban-American members of Congress have signed on to legislation to end automatic federal benefits for newly arrived Cubans.

The office of Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, announced the support Friday, a day after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio revealed he would file a bill in the Senate similar to the one Curbelo filed in the House last month.

Co-sponsoring Curbelo's proposal are Miami Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, West Virginia Republican Alex Mooney and New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires. The only fellow Cuban Americans not listed are New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who could only sign on once Rubio files his bill. (Cruz is a Rubio rival in the presidential race.)

"Together, we can protect those fleeing the Castro dictatorship while ensuring that America's generosity is not being exploited and abused," Curbelo said in a statement.

Three other House members from Florida are also listed: Republican Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach (who is running for U.S. Senate), and Democrats Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. Other co-sponsors so far are Reps. Ryan Costello, R-Pennsylvania; Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.

January 07, 2016

Miami Republicans in Congress again ask White House for Cuban refugees plan

@PatriciaMazzei

Three Miami Republican members of Congress sent their third letter Thursday to President Barack Obama urging the White House to draft a plan to accommodate the influx of Cuban refugees to South Florida.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all Cuban Americans, blame Obama's rapprochement with Cuba for the increase in migrants from the island arriving in the U.S. -- and want him to help local governments absorb the new arrivals.

The House members have written to Obama twice before. Some 8,000 Cubans stranded in Costa Rica are now enroute to the U.S.-Mexico border. Federal policy stipulates that Cubans who reach American soil can remain in the country. After 366 days, they can apply for U.S. residency.

"Since our previous letters, we have been in contact with Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, and Doral Mayor Luigi Boria about their concerns regarding the growing strain on local governments and services in South Florida," the trio wrote Thursday. "Through its Homeless program, the City of Miami has been able to place Cuban migrants into shelters. However, these centers are now at full capacity and can no longer receive any of the 8,000 new refugees expected to arrive in the coming weeks. We have also been informed that Catholic Charities, Church World Services, and the International Rescue Committee do not have the funds necessary to assist these new refugees because they are already overwhelmed by the surge of Cuban nationals that have recently arrived in the United States."

Read the full letter: here.

Marco Rubio plans to file Senate companion bill to end automatic federal benefits for Cubans

@PatriciaMazzei

Marco Rubio will return to Washington on Tuesday to file legislation in the U.S. Senate to end automatic federal benefits for Cuban immigrants.

Rubio let the news slip Thursday at a presidential campaign event in Bedford, New Hampshire, NBC News reported. The Florida senator later confirmed his plans to Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 in an interview.

"We have people living in Cuba off Social Security benefits. They never worked here," Rubio said at the house party in the town of Bedford. "This is an outrageous abuse, and I have a law that we are going to introduce this week that shuts down this issue. It's wrong."

Rubio's bill would be a Senate companion to legislation filed last month in the House by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican (who, incidentally, supports Rubio rival Jeb Bush).

Curbelo's proposal wouldn't touch the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which allows Cubans to apply for U.S. residency after a year and a day in the country. But it would stop automatic federal benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid for Cubans, who under existing law are treated as refugees even without formal refugee status.

Rubio reiterated in New Hampshire that the Cuban Adjustment Act should be reviewed, a position he has advocated in the past as Cuban immigration has shifted from people fleeing political persecution to those seeking a better economy.

Miami-Dade pursuing ferry service to Cuba from PortMiami

@doug_hanks @newsbysmiley

The largely undeveloped plot of land at PortMiami where David Beckham once wanted a soccer stadium is poised to test just how much the politics of Cuba have changed in Miami. County officials want to transform the waterfront property into a bustling terminal for ferries running between Miami and Cuba.

The initiative could position Miami as the prime jumping-off point for a fledgling ferry industry that hopes to provide affordable travel and shipping between the longtime enemies. And it marks a milestone for the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez, which until now has not openly pursued economic opportunities with a country whose outlaw status has long been an axiom of local politics.

“We need to be prepared for when the situation is here, when the business is ready to launch,” port director Juan Kuryla said Wednesday. “We anticipate it’s going to be a flourishing business here in Miami.”

PortMiami isn’t the only Florida port interested in Cuba ferry service amid a dramatic warming of diplomacy and expansion of commerce between the U.S. and Cuba. Ferry companies also have talked about launching Florida-Cuba ferries from Key West, Port Everglades and Port Manatee on Florida’s west coast.

A new terminal for Cuba-bound ferries would go on the port’s southwest corner, a waterfront wedge of largely undeveloped land that overlooks downtown Miami and lately has been one of the most controversial pieces of county real estate.

More here

December 28, 2015

Cubans stranded in Costa Rica shouldn't get 'free entry' into U.S., Jeb Bush says

@PatriciaMazzei

Costa Rica has moved to deport 56 Cuban migrants stranded along its border on their way to the U.S.

That's a local issue in heavily Cuban-American Miami-Dade County -- which means Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was asked about the issue by a Spanish-language reporter after his Hialeah campaign rally Monday.

"The rule of law must be respected," Bush said. "I don't know their exact condition there, but they don't have -- they shouldn't have, and I don't think they do have -- free entry into this country. We have to have an immigration system based on the law, and if those laws don't work, to change the law."

Bush was also asked about U.S. plans to step up deportations of immigrants in the country illegally, beginning in January.

He gave a similar answer.

"This has to be resolved lawfully," the former Florida governor said. "Congress must pass immigration reform. When I'm president that's exactly what I'm going to do. President Obama has had seven years to work with Congress. He hasn't done it. He wants to have this as part of a political plan to win votes."

December 20, 2015

Businessmen write ‘open letter’ urging fellow Cuban Americans to embrace U.S. policy changes

@PatriciaMazzei

Earlier this month, nearly a year to the day President Barack Obama shocked Cuban Americans with the news that the U.S. would reestablish relations with the Castro regime, a group of Cuban-American business people, almost all from Miami, quietly traveled to the island to see for themselves what, if anything, had changed.

Most of the 10 men — even a couple of otherwise staunch conservatives — returned convinced that stronger ties to the U.S. would help Cubans. They published a full-page advertisement in Sunday’s Miami Herald urging others to join their cause. Its title: “An Open Letter to Our Fellow Cuban-Americans.”

“We saw progress beyond what we could have imagined,” they wrote. “We saw entrepreneurs with a thirst for knowledge and families benefiting from the newfound freedom of enterprise. It is these ‘everyday’ people who are leading the way to an improved life but not without challenges.”

Without calling for an outright end to the U.S. trade embargo, which can only be lifted by Congress, they denounced it as ineffective: “As fellow Cuban-Americans, let us recognize the progress that has been made on both sides of the 90-mile Florida Straits, albeit halting, in the right direction. Just consider what has been accomplished in the last 12 months versus what has been accomplished in the last century.”

“We have arrived at the point in our lives where we have no interest in personal advancement, but only in what would be good for ‘nuestra gente,’” our people, they maintained.

Two Republicans who led the travel group paid for the ad: Carlos Gutierrez, the U.S. commerce secretary under former President George W. Bush, and Mike Fernandez, the Coral Gables healthcare magnate and top financial backer of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign.

More here.