April 14, 2015

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

@PatriciaMazzei

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.

April 08, 2015

Florida House votes to oppose Cuba policy

The Florida House on Wednesday took a formal position against President Obama's decision to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba.

The vote came two days before Obama is scheduled to see Cuban leader Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Republican Reps. Manny Diaz, Jr. and Jeanette Núñez said it was important to send a strong message in advance of the gathering.

"We are truly the last best hope for the Cuban people," Núñez said.

The measure is largely symbolic. In addition to expressing "profound disagreement" with the president's decision, it also opposes the opening of a Cuban consulate in Florida.

Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, said the action didn't go far enough.

But Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said it was the only tool available to state lawmakers.

"There's nothing else that we could possibly do," Trujillo said. "I wish I could tell you that Speaker [Steve] Crisafulli was going to send our powerful armada to Cuba and liberate it and free it."

Núñez said the measure was more than rhetoric.

"It matters because it is about the people," she said. "It's about freedom. It's about liberty that we enjoy and they don't."

The Florida Senate took a similar vote last month.

State lawmakers will now send a formal petition urging Congress to uphold the embargo.

Poll in Cuba: President Obama more popular than Raul and Fidel Castro

via @glenngarvin

President Barack Obama is more popular among Cubans than either of the Castro brothers who have ruled the island for the past five and a half decades, according to a new poll secretly conducted there last month.

Eighty percent of the Cubans polled said they had a “very positive” or “somewhat positive” opinion of Obama, while just 17 percent registered a “very negative” or “somewhat negative” impression.

The widespread approval of the U.S. president was in sharp contrast to the mostly adverse opinions of Cuban leader Raul Castro (48 percent negative, 47 percent postive) and his retired older brother Fidel (50 percent negative, 44 percent positive).

Obama’s popularity — exceeded by only that of Pope Francis — was perhaps the most startling finding of the poll, which was conducted by the Miami company Bendixen & Amandi International for the TV networks Univision and Fusion and the Washington Post.

The survey is the first nationwide opinion poll conducted in Cuba by a private firm since the country turned communist. Without the Cuban government’s knowledge or permission, the pollsters conducted face-to-face interviews with 1,200 adults throughout the island between March 6 and 16. The poll has a plus-or-minus 2.8 percent margin of error.

More here.

April 01, 2015

Poll: Support growing among Cuban Americans for new U.S.-Cuba policy

via @HeraldMimi

A new national poll of Cuban Americans shows that their support for the White House's new Cuba policy has grown in the three months since the historic announcement, and now 51 percent say they support the effort to begin normalizing relations with Cuba.

Forty percent said they disagreed with the new policy and 9 percent didn’t respond or said they didn’t know, according to the poll by Bendixen & Amandi International.

Cuban Americans living outside Florida have embraced the new policy much more than those residing in the Sunshine State, according to the poll. Attitudes also diverge between older Cuban Americans born on the island and younger generations.

Forty-nine percent of Cuban Americans living in Florida said they disagreed with the effort to normalize relations while 41 percent said they agreed. However, 69 percent of Cuban Americans living outside the exile stronghold of Florida said they agreed with the new policy.

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points, will be unveiled Wednesday in New York at the sold-out Cuba Opportunity Summit, a conference for senior level business executives interested in exploring business opportunities in Cuba.

Bendixen & Amandi International polled 400 Cuban Americans 18 and older March 20-25 in English or Spanish on their attitudes toward the new policy. It includes renewing diplomatic relations with Cuba, allowing more Americans to travel to the island, raising remittance levels, cooperating with Cuba on areas of mutual interest such as environmental protection, and increased commercial ties even as the U.S. trade embargo against the island remains in place.

More here.

March 24, 2015

Florida Senate votes to oppose U.S.-Cuba relations

Cuba

In an emotional speech Tuesday, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, asked her fellow senators to oppose President Obama’s recent decision to open up diplomatic relations with Cuba.

All but one agreed.

The measure, which also discourages the federal government from allowing a Cuban consulate in Florida, is largely symbolic. But it was important for the Cuban-American members of the state Senate, Flores said.

"A lot of my friends and colleagues have asked why we care so deeply," she said on the Senate Floor.

Flores told the story of how her mother had fled the island nation as a girl. 

She spoke about the "hundreds of thousands [who] sit in prison every day for having the gall to stand up and say something." And she showed photographs of the Ladies in White, the wives and family members of imprisoned Cuban dissidents who hold regular protests in Havana.

"They are spit upon, they are beat up, they are harassed," Flores said.

Flores said the Obama administration's decision to ease travel restrictions to Cuba would allow American visitors to "have it all," while Cuban residents would continue to suffer.

"I know you've seen the pictures of the beautiful beaches were the tourists can go," she said. "No one who is a Cuban citizen can go to those places."

Her call was echoed by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican who said members of his family had been imprisoned and killed for speaking out against the government.

Diaz de la Portilla said the new Cuba policy would "do nothing but ensure that the [Castro] regime stays in power."

"To think that by spending American cash, so Americans can by Cuban cigars and Cuban rum and stay at hotels on stolen land, that these two obstinate octogenarian dictators and their cronies are going to change anything is naive at best," he said.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, urged his colleagues to "send a message to this administration that we understand the plight and the problems [Cubans] are facing, and that we must continue to put the pressure on the Castro regime to open up and be transparent."

The measure passed on a voice vote, with Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, saying he was proud to stand with the members of the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation.

Only one senator opposed the proposal.

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, said she understood the Cuban-American senators' "passion and pain." But she defended the Obama administration's "historic steps to chart a new course" in Cuba.

"I know in my heart that there was no malice intended by the promulgation of this policy by the Obama administration, and I know that his moving this forward is an effort to bring freedom to the Cuban nation," Joyner said.

A similar proposal, sponsored by Republican Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. and Jeanette Núñez, is ready for a vote on the House floor.

So far, the House version has yet to win the support of a single Democrat. But Núñez hopes that will change.

"This is not a partisan debate for us," she said. "We're not going to denigrate the president. We're going to keep it to the policy."

March 19, 2015

Miami Republican members of Congress oppose Cuban embassy in Washington, citing spies

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami's three Cuban-American Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives say they don't want to see a Cuban embassy opened in Washington D.C. -- or a Cuban consulate anywhere else in the country -- because it would risk allowing Cuba to spy on the U.S.

There is already a Cuban interests section in D.C., and a Cuban mission to the United Nations.

"We are all too familiar with the Castro regime's efforts to utilize their diplomats as intelligence agents tasked with the goal of committing espionage against their host countries," the members of Congress and several colleagues wrote in a letter Thursday to the U.S. State Department. "We believe that allowing Cuba to open an embassy in Washington, D.C. or consulates will further open the door for their espionage activities." 

They also asked to be briefed in detail about the status of the negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba to normalize diplomatic relations.

Signing the letter were Miami Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, as well as Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat and fellow Cuban American, and Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican whose father was born in Cuba. Cruz is considering a 2016 presidential candidacy.

February 26, 2015

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: 'Cuba poses a clear and present danger to the United States'

At a congressional hearing reviewing President Barack Obama's Cuba policy, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told members of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee that the Castro regime "undermines our national security at every turn."

"Let me be clear," Ros-Lehtinen said in prepared remarks. "Cuba poses a clear and present danger to the United States."

Read her complete remarks after the jump.

Continue reading "Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: 'Cuba poses a clear and present danger to the United States'" »

February 17, 2015

Nancy Pelosi leads congressional delegation to Cuba

@PatriciaMazzei

A group of Democratic members of Congress, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, is scheduled to arrive Tuesday in Cuba as part of the first formal U.S. House of Representatives trip since President Obama moved toward closer diplomatic ties with the island's communist regime.

The group will meet with "Cuban government officials, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, local community leaders and representatives, and American officials at the U.S. interests section," according to a news release from Pelosi's office. It's unclear whether the local community leaders and representatives will include any dissidents.

"This delegation travels to Cuba in friendship and to build upon the announcement of U.S. normalization of relations and other initiatives announced by President Obama," Pelosi said in a statement. "This delegation will work to advance the U.S.-Cuba relationship and build on the work done by many in the Congress over the years, especially with respect to agriculture and trade."

None of the representatives on the trip are from Florida.

In addition to Pelosi, they are: Reps. Eliot Engel, Steve Israel and Nydia Velázquez of New York; Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, and Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island.

Three Democratic senators -- Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Mark Warner of Virginia -- wrapped up a four-day visit to Cuba on Tuesday.