August 13, 2015

Florida politicians react to U.S. embassy opening in Havana


South Florida Republicans in particular are upset about the Obama administration's planned opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana Friday. We'll update this post with statements as we get them.

(We posted separate blog items about a Marco Rubio speech, and about a Jeb Bush statement.)

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami

John Kerry's presence in Havana on his global capitulation tour is yet another example of the Obama administration’s d’esire to pursue deals at any cost. While the Castro brothers will roll out the red carpet for Secretary Kerry, the people of Cuba will continue to be met with violence and detentions. While Secretary Kerry just changes the sign on the door at our post, he purposefully forgets that the Castro regime tries to prevent the people of Cuba from even reaching our building.  While political prisoners languish in Castro’s gulags, Secretary Kerry will be shaking hands with their oppressor. The arrest of more than 100 pro-democracy leaders just days before Kerry’s visit should provide proof enough that the Castro regime has no intention of changing, so why should our policies change?

From a dangerous Iran deal to being weak against North Korea to giving in to the demands of the Castro brothers, this administration has demonstrated it imposes no moral bar to negotiating with tyrannical regimes. It is a shame we continue to give away so much in exchange for nothing since the White House was unable to ensure democratic freedoms for the people of Cuba, the return of fugitives from American justice, or compensation for illegally confiscated properties. Our country stands for so much more than the pittance it has accepted from the Castro regime.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, 2016 Republican U.S. Senate

The Obama Administration’s refusal to invite pro-democracy leaders to Friday’s U.S. Embassy ceremony in Havana is a shameful embarrassment that emboldens Castro's repressive regime. Once again, it demonstrates that President Obama is committed to a policy that allows the Castros to dictate the terms and conditions of their relationship with the U.S., to the detriment of the Cuban people’s right to freedom and self-determination.

During his visit to the enslaved island of Cuba, I call on Secretary Kerry to demand the dictatorship immediately release all political prisoners and end the repeated violence against peaceful pro-democracy leaders. Because the Obama Administration has decided to proceed with normalization while disregarding the clear evidence of increased brutality against peaceful dissidents, President Obama now bears the responsibility for the violence that will continue to be inflicted upon the Cuban people.

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August 12, 2015

Marco Rubio blasts U.S. for not inviting dissidents to Cuba embassy opening


The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Obama administration doesn't plan to invite Cuban dissidents to attend the U.S. embassy opening ceremony in Havana Friday.

The news gave Republican presidential candidate and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio an opening to once again blast President Obama over his diplomatic thaw with Cuba.

"This is a new low for President Obama and a slap in the face by this administration to Cuba's courageous democracy activists," Rubio said in a statement released by his Senate office. "Cuban dissidents are the legitimate representatives of the Cuban people and it is they who deserve America's red carpet treatment,‎ not Castro regime officials. What a pathetic policy President Obama has embarked on that shuns Cuban dissidents like this, yet has welcomed Castro regime officials to the White House."

Polls show most Americans favor renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba. But most Americans also don't follow the day-to-day Cuba news as Cuban exiles in Miami. For example, when fellow GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush spoke to the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper's editorial board recently, board members seemed shocked to learn about the Cuban government's continued repression of dissidents.

Our colleague Mimi Whitefield reported some dissidents may attend a reception following the embassy flag-raising Friday.

This post has been updated.

August 11, 2015

Ahead of U.S. embassy in Havana opening, Marco Rubio asks John Kerry to meet with Cuban dissidents


Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to Havana to re-open the U.S. embassy there Friday. So on Monday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio -- a prolific letter-writer on the subject of Cuba -- asked Kerry to meet with Cuban dissidents while he's on the island.

"It is a diplomatic and moral failure on this Administration's part to have moved forward with opening an embassy in Havana and providing the regime with a windfall of U.S. dollars without achieving any of our national interests in return," Rubio wrote.

"Rather than negotiate with Cuba from a position of strength, the Obama Administration chose to give away too much up front in exchange for the regime's empty promises of future discussions."

Rubio, a Republican presidential candidate who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also reiterated his intention to block the appointment of a U.S. ambassador to Cuba.

Read the full letter below.

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August 04, 2015

Did Hillary Clinton flip-flop on the Cuba embargo?

Hillary Clinton gave a speech in Miami in which she called for lifting the Cuba embargo -- and she did it on the home turf of embargo supporters and GOP rivals former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

"The Cuba embargo needs to go, once and for all," she said at Florida International University July 31.

The anti-Democratic America Rising PAC accused Clinton of making a "sudden flip flop on Cuba."

Well, it wasn’t exactly sudden.

We decided to put Clinton’s statements since 2000 on the embargo on our Flip-O-Meter, which doesn’t pass judgment on changing stances but evaluates whether a candidate has flipped and to what extent. Some voters see some flips as a sign of inconsistency, while others view flips as a sign that a politician has the ability to compromise or adapt their positions to the wishes of constituents.

First, a word about lifting the embargo, which would require action by Congress. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Helms-Burton Act which prevents the embargo from being lifted until Cuba holds free and fair elections, frees political prisoners and allows for a free press and labor unions. Cuba did release some prisoners as part of the deal with the United States but has not met all of these conditions.

See what PolitiFact found.

July 31, 2015

Lift Cuba embargo, Hillary Clinton urges Congress

via @MrMikeVasquez @J2theLuna

Saying “America’s approach to Cuba is at a crossroads,” Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton called for an end to the 53-year-old Cuban trade embargo in Miami on Friday.

The former secretary of state’s chosen location of Florida International University was significant for two reasons: Clinton delivered the message in the heart of the Cuban exile community, which is divided over the issue, and did it at a college campus, where the crowd tilted younger and, according to polls, more likely to support lifting the controversial measure.

Her position would have elicited public outcry in the Miami of a not-so-distant past. But times have changed: Protests against Clinton were contained to a handful of people, many of them with the local Republican Party, outside the auditorium.

In her remarks, Clinton said her campaign is about bringing prosperity to the U.S. — but also to the citizens of Cuba, and “for the young entrepreneur in Little Havana, who dreams of expanding to old Havana.”

Though only Congress can lift the embargo, Clinton promised, if elected, to act on Cuba even if Congress doesn’t, by using her executive authority to loosen travel and other economic restrictions, including on telecommunications.

More here.

A peek at what Hillary Clinton will say about Cuba policy at FIU


Here's an excerpt of Hillary Clinton's speech planned for Friday, where she will call for the U.S. to lift the trade embargo against Cuba:

We have arrived at a decisive moment. The Cuban people have waited long enough for progress to come. Even many Republicans on Capitol Hill are starting to recognize the urgency of moving forward.  It’s time for their leaders to either get on board or get out of the way.

The Cuba embargo needs to go, once and for all.  We should replace it with a smarter approach that empowers the Cuban private sector, Cuban civil society, and the Cuban-American community to spur progress and keep pressure on the regime.

Today I am calling on Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell to step up and answer the pleas of the Cuban people.  By large majorities, they want a closer relationship with America.  They want to buy our goods, read our books, surf our web, and learn from our people.  They want to bring their country into the 21st century.  That is the road toward democracy and dignity.  We should walk it together.

July 29, 2015

Hillary Clinton to give speech on Cuba at FIU in Miami Friday

Hillary Clinton will use Friday, her first day of public appearances in Florida as a presidential candidate, to declare her allegiance to President Barack Obama’s Cuba policy in the hometown of Republican rivals who oppose it, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

Much like her speech on immigration reform in Las Vegas, in which she tried to portray herself as willing to go further than Obama, her speech at Florida International University will be her first chance to double down on the president’s move in December to normalize U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations. Clinton’s campaign confirmed Wednesday morning that her FIU speech will be about Cuba. That speech will follow her address to the National Urban League, a civil-rights organization, in Fort Lauderdale earlier Friday.

Clinton will call on Congress to lift the Cuban embargo.

“She will highlight that Republican arguments against increased engagement are part of failed policies of the past and contend that we must look to the future in order to advance a core set of values and interests to engage with Cubans and address human rights abuses,” said a statement from the campaign.

More here.

July 27, 2015

Cuban-American lawmakers react with alarm to Cuba's upgrade on trafficking report


Cuban-American lawmakers reacted incredulously to the upgrade that Cuba received from the U.S. State Department in its annual “Trafficking in Persons Report.”

The report, released Monday, is a compilation of nations that have made inadequate progress preventing activities such as sex trafficking or forced labor.

This year, 23 countries were on the on the report’s Tier 3 –- nations such as Iran, North Korea, Libya, Russia and others “whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”

Gone from the list? Cuba.

In a briefing, Under Secretary of State Sarah Sewall detailed serious problems that remain in Cuba, and noted that the designation for nations such as Cuba “does not mean that a country is free from problems or free from human trafficking.”

Cuba was upgraded, she said, because of progress by its government in addressing and prosecuting sex trafficking -– as well as the commitments it has made to become compliant with the minimum standards.

The U.S. remains concerned about Cuba in part because of its “failure to recognize forced labor as a problem or to act to combat it,” she said.

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Senate bill to boost trade with Cuba faces long odds, despite win


Legislation designed to boost agricultural trade with Cuba passed out of a U.S. Senate committee last week, joining a separate bill that would ease restrictions on travel to the island.

But for those interested in a return to full trade and travel between the U.S. and Cuba, the actions last week represent only a sliver of hope that the mood of Congress is thawing as much as President Barack Obama would like.

“I’m more optimistic that the pressure is increasing to do something in Congress,” said Carl Meacham, a former senior Republican aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who serves as director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But what happens because of that pressure is dependent on a range of issues – from the attitude of Senate leadership to the dynamics of presidential politics, he said. And then the measures will have to go through the House of Representatives as well.

“And I don’t see the House going the way of the Senate,” Meacham said.

The legislation last week was sponsored by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and represents one of the strategies lawmakers are employing to boost trade with Cuba.

In December, leaders in the U.S. and Cuba announced a thawing of relations between the two nations after decades of limited trade, travel and diplomacy. While some aspects of trade and travel with the island nation have been loosened, many other restrictions remain.

For full story, here.

July 24, 2015

Conditions tied to possible President Obama visit to Cuba

via @ngameztorres

The Obama administration will evaluate the progress of its new Cuba policy by considering issues such as the arrests of dissidents, access to the Internet and the development of the island’s private sector, according to participants in a recent White House meeting.

The administration would like to see improvements in those areas when it considers a possible visit of President Barack Obama to Cuba, but such progress would not be a prerequisite for the visit as White House spokesman Josh Earnest has indicated, White House and State Department officials told participants in the meeting, which was closed to the news media.

Several people invited to the Wednesday gathering, who asked that they not be identified, told El Nuevo Herald that the government officials mentioned that a possible decision on a trip would be evaluated early next year or in January. The White House denied that any specific month was mentioned.

Participants said Ben Rhodes, deputy National Security Council adviser, told the gathering that a possible Obama trip to Cuba would be evaluated at the beginning of 2016, based on the progress achieved by Cuban authorities on issues that the U.S. government considers to be important, such as human rights.

Rhodes also compared a possible Obama visit to Cuba with the events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall, one source at the meeting told the newspaper.

More here.