April 28, 2015

Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart tries to block new Cuba travel


Republicans in Congress filed legislation Tuesday that would dramatically limit new travel to Cuba, an attempt to block part of President Obama's more open policy toward the island's communist regime.

The proposed measure would ban new flights and cruises to Cuba. It was tucked into a wide-ranging, must-pass budget bill drafted by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, who chairs the House subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development appropriations.

Funding to facilitate travel to Cuba would be prohibited if airplanes or ships pass through any property confiscated by the Cuban government, which effectively rules out landing or docking at any airport or seaport. Importing restricted amounts of goods such as cigars would still be allowed.

In a statement, Diaz-Balart decried Obama's move in january to significantly ease travel restrictions. Permissible trips to Cuba, he said, now "include snorkeling, cigar factory tours, salsa dancing lessons, and other obvious tourist activities."

"Under these circumstances, Congress cannot remain idle," said Diaz-Balart, who is Cuban-American. "The expansion of regularly scheduled flights to Cuba is an obvious attempt to circumvent the tourism ban. Similarly, allowing cruises to dock in Cuba would violate both the spirit and the letter of U.S. law."

The massive, $55 billion budget bill was announced Tuesday with a news release that made no mention of the Cuba provision.

Another group of lawmakers has filed legislation to repeal all travel restrictions to the island.

April 23, 2015

GOP won’t challenge Cuba’s removal from terrorism list

via @HeraldMimi

Republicans say they will not mount a challenge to President Barack Obama’s plan to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen met with congressional colleagues last week to map strategy to prevent the de-listing and she had planned to introduce a bill this week.

But she told Foreign Policy Wednesday that legally Congress can’t prevent the White House from taking Cuba off the list. “We can't undo it. We just got the word from the parliamentarian: It's a no-go.”

Ros-Lehtinen told Foreign Policy that 35 co-sponsors had signed on to draft legislation before the decision was made not to go forward with it.

Obama sent a report to Congress April 14 saying he planned to take Cuba off the list because it had provided no support for international terrorism during the past six months and the Cuban government had given assurances that it wouldn’t support acts of international terrorism in the future.

Cuba was placed on the list in 1982 because of its effort to promote armed revolution in Latin America. Cuban officials have always contended that Cuba never should have been put on the list.

By law, the president was required to inform Congress 45 days before his directive went into effect. Now, with no challenges, Cuba is expected to be removed from the list in late May.

More here.

April 22, 2015

Farm-state senators introduce bill to ease ag sales to Cuba


Two senators announced legislation designed to boost the sales of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba, seeking to tap a market that has seen shipments from the U.S. dwindle in recent years.

Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and John Boozman, R-Ark., introduced the bill Wednesday, the latest in a series of legislative and administrative steps taken since President Barack Obama in December announced a thawing of relations with the island nation.

The bill seeks to remove one of the main barriers to open agricultural trade with Cuba: the prohibition on credit sales. According to the lawmakers, current law prohibits any kind of financing of exports to Cuba and requires cash payment up front, curtailing potential sales.

The bill by Heitkamp and Boozman, the Agricultural Export Expansion Act, would lift the ban on private banks and companies from offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba. It was cosponsored by Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

Although a broad embargo governs trade with Cuba, agricultural products have been granted some leeway, although the financing restrictions mean trade is far from free and open.

Overall, Cuba imports more than $2 billion a year in food and agricultural products. The U.S. share of that has been several hundred million dollars in recent years, although it has been trending down and totaled less than $300 million in 2014; agricultural experts see the potential for U.S. sales to exceed $1.2 billion annually within five years.

The U.S. farm lobby is pushing hard for a full repeal of the trade embargo -– and while there is bipartisan support for such a move it remains very controversial in Congress and experts say a full repeal is very unlikely this Congress.

At best, according to U.S.-Cuba experts, trade advocates are in for a long battle. Short of full repeal, experts said, politicians might find agreement on further relaxing financial regulations, such as the credit ban.

April 19, 2015

AP: N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be first gov to visit Cuba

From the Associated Press:

ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is heading to Havana, the first American governor to visit Cuba since the recent thaw in relations with the communist nation. Whether his trade mission generates anything more than headlines, however, remains to be seen.

The formal state visit on Monday and Tuesday is meant to foster greater ties between New York and Cuba. Cuomo will be joined by lawmakers and a group of business leaders for what he has called "a tremendous stepping stone" that will "help open the door to a new market for New York businesses." 

More here.

April 18, 2015

In 1960, CIA stopped Miami Herald scoop about Bay of Pigs invasion

via @glenngarvin

There were a lot of bad days during the Cold War, but 54 years ago this weekend was one of the worst, at least for the United States. President John F. Kennedy sent an army of anti-Castro exiles backed by the CIA onto the beach at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs to suffer bloody, catastrophic defeat. It was “the beating of our lives,” the despondent Kennedy would say a few days later as he wondered aloud why nobody had talked him out of it.

One of the piquant questions of Cold War history is, could the Miami Herald have done that — talked him out of it? In a little-known collision of journalism and national security, the Herald, seven months before the Bay of Pigs, had prepared a news story saying that the United States was planning to launch a military operation against Cuba. But the paper’s top management killed the story after CIA Director Allen Dulles said publishing it would hurt national security.

“It’s hard to know these things,” says Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, which has published several books on the Bay of Pigs. “But could a bold, dramatic story that the United States was planning an invasion have stopped the Bay of Pigs? I think the answer might be yes.”

The tale of the Herald’s Bay of Pigs scoop and its subsequent capitulation to the CIA has mostly been shrouded in mystery for the past five decades. It was explored briefly in Anything but the Truth, a book by Washington reporters William McGaffin and Erwin Knoll that was published in 1968 and quickly disappeared.

It all started with some kids throwing firecrackers over a fence in Homestead.

More here.


April 14, 2015

They agree on this: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio want Cuba to remain on terror list


President Obama's decision Tuesday to no longer consider Cuba a terrorist nation prompted sharp rebukes from newly declared Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio and one of his likely rivals, Jeb Bush.

For Rubio, it was an opportunity to receive even more public attention a day after his campaign launch. For Bush, it's a chance to show off his savvy on Cuba and Latin America, honed from years of experience living in Miami and being the governor of Florida.

Of note: A version of Rubio's statement translated into Spanish differed slightly from his video statement in English. He did not say in English that Cuba harbors Medicare fraudsters -- but did point that out in Spanish. 




President Obama embraced Cuba’s oppressive dictator, Raul Castro by removing Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List and consummating the Obama Administration’s rapprochement with the Communist police state. Coupled with this policy of accommodation with Cuba is the Administration’s failure to respond sooner and more forcefully to the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, where the policies of late dictator Hugo Chavez and his chosen successor, Nicolás Maduro continue to hurt their people. Beyond denying their citizens the basic freedoms all humans deserve, the Castro and Maduro regimes continue to engage in activities abroad that undermine stability in this pivotal region.

While I am concerned about the continuing assault on human rights and democracy in Latin America, I am encouraged by the signers of the ‘Declaration of Panama’ – Latin American democracies committed to expanding freedom and opportunity throughout this region. These brave defenders of liberty and democracy are the natural allies of the United States. Rather than breathing new life into corrupt regimes, the United States should stand with these leaders, and on the side of the Venezuelan and Cuban people who have for too long been denied the fundamental freedoms they so deserve.

Miami's Cuban-American members of Congress slam Obama over Cuba terror designation change


The trio of Miami Cuban-American Republicans in Congress -- Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- were quick to denounce the White House's decision Tuesday to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Congress has 45 days to block the action, if it can find enough support -- a veto-proof majority -- to do so, which seems unlikely.

Here are statements from the three representatives:

Continue reading "Miami's Cuban-American members of Congress slam Obama over Cuba terror designation change" »

Obama intends to remove Cuba from list of terrorist nations

via @HeraldMimi

After 33 years of designating Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, the United States is removing its Caribbean neighbor from a list of terrorist nations in another sign of warming relations between the two countries.

President Barack Obama sent a message to Congress on Tuesday saying Cuba would be removed from the list because it had not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six months and that Cuba had provided assurances that it would not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

The State Department began a review of whether Cuba should still have a place on the list of state sponsors of terrorism on Dec. 17, the day Cuba and the United States announced they planned to put more than a half century of hostility behind them and work toward normalizing relations. It forwarded its recommendation to the president last week and Obama accepted it this week.

“Circumstances have changed since 1982, when Cuba was originally designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism because of its efforts to promote armed revolution by forces in Latin America,” the State Department said in a statement Tuesday. “Our Hemisphere, and the world, look very different today than they did 33 years ago.”

In accordance with U.S. law, the president is required to inform Congress 45 days before the directive takes effect. Congress doesn’t have to validate his decision but it could decide to take action to override his recommendation.

South Florida Rep. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen promptly condemned the action, calling it “a miscarriage of justice borne out of political motivations not rooted in reality.”

More here.

April 13, 2015

Report: Raúl Castro says he'd like to visit Miami, then laughs


Cuban leader Raúl Castro has no interest in visiting the White House but would like to come to Miami, according to a report in a television station in Panama.

Castro spoke to reporter Glenda Umaña, formerly of CNN en Español, in a hallway at the Summit of the Americas over the weekend. She recorded part of the exchange on her cellphone, and later discussed the conversation with station Telemetro Panama.

The portion about Miami wasn't recorded. But Umaña wrote on Facebook that Castro laughed after telling her about coming to Miami -- so perhaps his response was all in jest.

April 11, 2015

Handshake takes place between Obama, Raúl Castro

via @HeraldMimi @jimwyss

PANAMA CITY -- U.S President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro shared a stage and took part in a gala dinner Friday at the opening of the VII Summit of the Americas, as the formerly hostile nations continued their slow dance toward reconciliation.

While there's still a huge chasm to close for countries that haven’t had diplomatic relations since 1961, the opening ceremony came amid speculation that the two leaders might have a more substantial conversation Saturday and that the communist island might be taken off the U.S. list of state-sponsors of terrorism.

Friday evening, Obama and Castro greeted each other and shook hands, according to the White House.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy National Security adviser and one of the architects of the new Cuba policy, said he expected a more substantial conversation between the two leaders, Saturday. “We certainly do anticipate that they will have the opportunity to see each other at the summit [Saturday] to have a discussion,” he said.

More here.