May 28, 2015

In gesture to Cuban Americans, Obama visits Our Lady of Charity shrine in Miami


President Barack Obama extended a symbolic olive branch Thursday to Miami’s Cuban Americans by paying his respects to the shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Coconut Grove.

Earlier in the day, Obama visited the National Hurricane Center and met privately with the Pinecrest family of Steven Sotloff, the journalist slain last year by the Islamic State, to offer condolences.

The surprise afternoon stop at the shrine by the sea, better known by its Spanish name, La Ermita de la Caridad, comes at a time when many Cuban exiles remain miffed by the president’s decision last December to restore diplomatic relations with the communist island, especially since Obama made no effort to reach out to Miami leaders prior to his announcement.

Obama is the first president to pay his respects to the shrine, according to the Archdiocese of Miami. It’s named after the patroness saint of Cuba.

Hola,” he told 13 worshipers seated in the church pews when he walked in. The Rev. Juan Rumin Dominguez guided the president, along with Cristina Brito, who served as interpreter.

More here.

This post has been updated.

May 27, 2015

Politico: Was that Barack Obama strolling through streets of Havana? LOL

Politico called it "Faux-bama's" tour of Havana.

See for yourself in this photo gallery of Cuban performance artist René Francisco Rodríguez, who last week was seen walking the streets and sipping mojitos in bars dressed as the U.S. president. According to The Telegraph, Rodríguez decided to dress like Obama and record the reaction he received as part of an art performance.

May 20, 2015

Marco Rubio pens Miami Herald op-ed on Cuban independence day

From Wednesday's Miami Herald:

As we mark Cuban Independence Day this Wednesday, we must never forget that the only true form of independence for the Cuban people is freedom and democracy, and we must recommit our state and nation to the goal of helping them achieve that vital objective.

I am the proud son of Cuban-American parents and was raised in a community of Cuban exiles. The trajectory of my life has been a product of their support, of true freedom, and of a uniquely American ideal: that where you come from does not determine where you can go or who you can be. Yet just 90 miles from the shores of our nation are men and women of my ancestry and heritage who still do not have freedom. Yet they look to this country for the hope that they someday will.

I believe we must not fail them. In the last decade and a half, every single country in the Western Hemisphere has had a free and fair election at some point except for one: Cuba. The United States has always stood on the side of peoples around the world who yearn for freedom. But today, our president has decided to take a different approach. Not only has he forsaken our duty to advocate for oppressed peoples, but he has traveled many miles in the opposite direction: going so far as to pay homage to the whims of the very dictatorial regime that denies the freedom of the Cuban people.

More here.

May 19, 2015

How Marco Rubio tells the Elián González story

via @learyreports

Elián González is back in the news, giving an exclusive interview to ABC News and saying he’d like to visit Miami. “I want to take the time to thank the American people for their love,” said Gonzalez, now 21.

Marco Rubio practically watched the infamous raid go down in April 2000, and writes about it in his memoir An American Son.

Rubio was up at 4 a.m. that day due to the cries of his daughter, Amanda. “After I fed her and she had fallen back asleep, I decided to go by the house in Little Havana where Elian was staying. I expected something could happen that morning, and I wanted to be there to see it," he wrote.

He made the short drive through quiet streets and saw a police car blocking an intersection. “Seconds later several vans sped past me toward the house. I waited in my car at the intersection, and a few minutes later, the same vans sped by me again traveling in the opposite direction. I parked my car and sprinted the three blocks to the house. Hundreds of people were wandering around in disbelief, many of them coughing and looking for a hose to wash pepper spray off their faces. Media trucks and camera crews were everywhere.”

Continue reading "How Marco Rubio tells the Elián González story" »

May 18, 2015

Elián González, now 21, tells ABC News he'd like to visit Miami


Elián González, the 6-year-old boy who was on every Miami television screen in 2000, made his way back to American airwaves Monday morning.

In an interview with Jim Avila of ABC News, he opened up about his his life in Cuba and his feelings toward the United States.

“I want to take the time to thank the American people for their love,” González said in English.

Elián first came into the public eye in 1999 when fishermen found him clinging to an inner tube in the Atlantic. A boat carrying his mother and 10 other Cubans fleeing the country capsized, killing everyone aboard — except the young boy.

“I was floating alone in the middle of the sea, that’s the last thing I remember,” he told ABC in the first of several interviews airing through the day and evening.

His rescue led to an international custody battle between his father, Juan Miguel González, and his Miami relatives who took him in.

The standoff ended in April 2000 when armed federal agents entered the Miami home where Elián was staying and seized the boy. Within hours, he was on a plane back to Cuba.

That 6-year-old boy is now a 21-year-old man with a beard and a fiancée.

In the interview, he said that he is not angry with his American relatives. He even added that he would like to visit the United States one day.

He also said he would visit his family in Miami again — under one condition that the network did not immediately reveal.

Part of the interview aired early on Good Morning America. Other parts will air Monday evening onWorld News Tonight with David Murr and on Nightline.

May 07, 2015

Alan Gross favors Cuba rapprochement at Miami Beach fundraiser

via @ngameztorres

The newly formed New Cuba political action committee, which will raise money to promote travel and trade with the island, has found an unexpected spokesman: Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor who was imprisoned for five years in Cuba and wants to return to play "a constructive role" as the two countries resume closer ties.

"Alan would like to return to Cuba to assist in the rebuilding of the relationship between our countries and to play a constructive role and I applaud him for that," said his attorney Scott Gilbert.

"He has a great fondness for the people of Cuba. In fact, when I visited him in jail and talked about these issues, he told me clearly and consistently that he bears no ill will of any kind toward the people of Cuba and he supports more open relationships between our countries,” Gilbert said. “Like other great individuals in history, Alan has transcended his imprisonment, his particular situation, and he has tried to look forward and make the world a little better."

Gross was released from prison along with a Cuban informant who worked for the United States and three Cuban intelligence agents jailed in the U.S. last Dec. 17, as a precursor to the most significant change in U.S. policy toward Cuba in five decades.

Gilbert hosted the inaugural event of the New Cuba PAC on Monday night at his residence on Miami Beach. Gross did not make any public comments during his visit to South Florida.

More here.

May 06, 2015

Tampa, not Miami, eager to embrace Cuba

via @HeraldMimi

TAMPA -- Before Miami was even a city, Cubans were rolling cigars in the red brick factories of Tampa’s Ybor City and Cuban independence hero José Martí had visited to drum up support for the Cuban cause. It was the middle of the next century before Cuban exiles began making their mark on Miami.

Those two very different histories have resulted in different outlooks and relationships with Cuba. Many Cuban Americans whose roots stretch back to the early days of Ybor City have embraced the new White House opening toward Cuba and business leaders have hopped on the bandwagon, too, angling to get a Cuban consulate in Tampa and make the city the gateway to Cuba.

José R. Cabañas, head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, has visited the city for meetings with the business community and was invited to a recent Cuba forum organized by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Tampa International Airport but couldn’t attend. There also have been numerous sports, cultural and other exchanges between Tampa and Cuba in recent years and former Mayor Dick Greco even met with Fidel Castro in 2002.

This month, two Tampa delegations will be heading to Cuba — one organized by the Tampa chamber and the other, a 63-person cultural mission, composed mostly of Cuban Americans with ties to Ybor City where Vicente Martínez Ybor opened the first cigar factory in 1886.

In Miami, where the 1959 Cuban Revolution meant exile, lost property and uprooted families for many Cubans, people are still finding their way on President Barack Obama’s new Cuba policy. Some support engagement with Cuba; others reject it but overall the embrace of the new policy is more tepid than it has been in Tampa.

“It’s just different histories. That’s it,” said Tampa Councilman Charlie Miranda, whose father arrived in Ybor City from Cuba in 1911. “We didn’t experience what they did. We’re a little more laid-back here than Miami. We’re not so aggressive in our politics.

More here.

Ferries between Florida, Cuba could return

via @HeraldMimi

Ferries carrying both passengers and cargo may soon ply the Florida Straits between Florida and Cuba for the first time in more than a half century.

The U.S. government granted licenses Tuesday to at least five companies — Airline Brokers Co. of Miami, Baja Ferries USA, Havana Ferry Partners, United Caribbean Lines and America Cruise Ferries of Puerto Rico — to begin offering ferry service.

Some of the companies said they could begin to offer service within weeks but the plans of others are still in development. Among the departure ports being considered: Key West, Miami, Port Everglades and Tampa-area ports.

In the 1950s before the Cuban Revolution, ferries frequently plied the waters between Miami, Miami Beach, Key West and Havana, carrying Cubans on shopping excursions and Americans on getaways to sample Havana’s nightlife and explore the city. Today, the Cuban government is interested in improving access for its rapidly growing visitor industry. 

Before any service can begin, the U.S. Coast Guard must approve the potential Cuban ports of entry and the companies must negotiate matters such as dock access with the Cuban government, said attorney Robert Muse, who represents Baja Ferries USA.

More here.

May 01, 2015

Miami-Dade's most famous employee discovers stardom in Havana



When Ron Magill decided to visit Cuba, he knew he'd have to do it on his own time.

The well-known spokesman for Miami-Dade's Zoo Miami was worried about backlash within county government when he decided to join a delegation of zoo directors visiting Havana's zoo. So he took vacation time and bought his own ticket.

When he landed in Havana, Magill found a surprise waiting for him: he's famous there. Said the customs agent: “Are you the guy from Sábado Gigante?”

More here

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.