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#CubaNow Briefing: Ted Cruz Phones It In On Cuba

David Gomez

#CubaNow Briefing

Jan 22, 2016

Friends,

One critically important reason the United States and Cuba were able to restore relations was because of a transformation that first took place in South Florida. It is safe to say that without the support of Miami’s Cuban-American community, normalization between the two countries may have never materialized. That support has not come easy or without its share of justified heartache, but it has come with the belief that the Cuban people’s best days are ahead and that, as Americans, we can help them get there.

That is why it is so disappointing to see self-serving politicians determined on dragging us back to the Cold War. Cuban-American Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, currently vying for the Republican nomination for president, published a letter this week to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter demanding an explanation for Cuba’s first-ever participation in the Caribbean Nations Security Conference in Jamaica this month. Labeling the Cuban government “the implacable enemy of the United States,” Cruz threatened to block military funding for future joint security exercises until he received “assurances that the anti-American posture of the Castro regime has undergone a material change.”

Cruz’s letter is eye-rolling as a halfhearted attempt at pandering to a dwindling camp within both a larger Republican Party that is increasingly taking the lead on ending the embargo and a Cuban-American community that is paving the way for more engagement. Even more embarrassing, the U.S. and Cuba have had a productive relationship cooperating on security matters even before normalization, a fact that seems to escape the Senator or the intern who likely wrote this letter for him. As Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly told the AP earlier about the security conference, “We've normalized now and, regardless of how we think of each other in terms of politics, we have very, very common challenges." Apparently the head of U.S. Southern Command does not share Cruz’s zeal for demagoguery.

The same lack of leadership was on display in Miami this week, as local officials made a show of protesting the possibility of a Cuban consulate opening in Miami. It makes sense to have a consulate in South Florida, an area with the highest concentration of Cuban-Americans in the country and where support for relations with Cuba has continued to grow since normalization was first announced. But Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Miami-Dade County commissioners appealed to uglier sentiments in their opposition, as the commission voted to urge the federal government to avoid placing a consulate in Miami as it “could inflame passions and create security risks.”

Unless you’re pandering to same aforementioned camp, there is no reason to cite exaggerated “security risks” as a pretext to oppose opening a consulate in Miami. Instead of giving in to a perceived threat of violence, the city mayor and county commissioners should display the same confidence and leadership as Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who believes “people [in Miami] will act lawfully” and a consulate “would be a good place to go and demonstrate.” There is a reason, after all, why the Venezuelan government was more than happy to close its Miami consulate in 2012.

The work of restoring U.S.-Cuba relations and supporting the Cuban people is owed more than silly letters and non-binding resolutions. At a time when Cuban migrants continue to make dangerous treks to the U.S., a trend spurred on by fears pro-embargo hardliners have helped propagate, our leaders have a responsibility to do more than just take cheap political shots. Opening up relations with Cuba in a way that fosters growth on the Island is the only way to address this issue in the long term. A return to a Cold War mentality would come at the expense of the Cuban people, and that is an option we should never again choose to take.

Thank you for your support,

David Gomez
Political Director, #CubaNow


Texas Senator Ted Cruz Threatens To Block Military From Cooperating With Cuba

Senator Ted Cruz Threatens To Block Military From Joint Exercises Until He Receives Assurances Cuba Has Changed “Anti-American Posture.” “It seems recklessly premature to participate in a joint security exercise with Cuba this month, especially as they seem likely to only use it as a platform from which to demand the return of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. I would like to know the rationale behind this decision, and I urge you to reconsider this invitation at the very least until the Hellfire is returned to the United States. I also warn you of my intention to insert language into the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act prohibiting any future such joint exercises until Congress receives convincing assurances that the anti-American posture of the Castro regime has undergone a material change.” [Senator Ted Cruz, “Letter To Defense Secretary Ashton Carter On Cuba Security Cooperation,” 1/20/16]


Cuban Migrants Growing Increasingly Frustrated

U.S. Coast Guard Reports Cuban Migrants Becoming More Desperate Despite Warnings That “Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot” Policy Not Facing Imminent Change. “Cuban migrants desperate to reach U.S. shore are increasingly violent and noncompliant with Coast Guard crews who detain them at sea, authorities said Wednesday, citing reports of attempted poisoning and self-inflicted wounds as rumors swirl that the ‘wet-foot, dry-foot’ policy will soon be abandoned. U.S. immigration policies haven't changed since President Barack Obama ordered the restoration of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington in December 2014, and for over a year the Coast Guard has warned migrants and their relatives in the U.S. that no change is imminent. But an ongoing surge in Cubans fleeing their homeland by sea is fueled by fears they soon will lose the ‘wet-foot, dry-foot’ benefits that allow those reaching U.S. land to stay and pursue citizenship, according to the chief of response for the Coast Guard's 7th District in Miami.” [AP, “Coast Guard: Migrants Fleeing Cuba Increasingly Violent,” 1/20/16]

Coast Guard Captain Mark Fedor: More Cuban Migrants Attempting Self-Harm In Order To Be Taken Ashore For Treatment. “Security has been increased for Cuban migrants aboard Coast Guard vessels because more are jumping overboard, trying to poison themselves or suffering self-inflicted wounds in frantic attempts to be taken to U.S. shore for treatment, Capt. Mark Fedor said. ‘It's been a dangerous uptick. The last six months, it's come to a head,’ Fedor said.” [AP, “Coast Guard: Migrants Fleeing Cuba Increasingly Violent,” 1/20/16]

Cuban Migrants Headed To The U.S. Still Stranded In Costa Rica After Nicaragua Closed Its Border. “For five years the sandwich side business helped Alvarez and his family get by, but when the police finally shut him down, he made the same decision that thousands of other Cubans have. Instead of trying to cross the 90-mile Florida Straits to the U.S. in a raft, he chose a circuitous route that included a commercial flight from Cuba to Ecuador, with plans to travel north on a 5,000-mile route through South America to Costa Rica and on to the Texas-Mexico border. But since leaving the communist-ruled island, Alvarez and nearly 8,000 Cubans have found themselves waylaid in temporary shelters in Costa Rica after Nicaragua closed its border to the migrants in November. After two months of diplomatic wrangling, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico authorized an airlift to help the stranded Cuban migrants reach the U.S., but getting north remains difficult.” [L.A. Times, “U.S.-bound Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica camps,” 1/20/16]

Over 7,800 Migrants Are Stranded In Costa Rica In Shelters Across The Country. “Immigration from Cuba to the U.S. started trending up in 2009, according U.S. Customs and Border Protection, but that flow crested into a wave in 2015. A rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba announced in December 2014 sparked fears that the U.S. would change its ‘wet-foot, dry-foot’ policy, which allows Cubans to stay if they reach U.S. soil. More than 43,000 Cubans reached the U.S. during the 2015 fiscal year, a 78% jump from the 24,278 who arrived in 2014. That jump in migration was good business for smugglers in Costa Rica until police dismantled an operation in November that specialized in Cuban migrants. With no path forward, soon masses of Cuban migrants appeared at the border demanding to cross. Costa Rica started issuing transit visas, but as the crowds grew into the thousands Nicaragua closed its border, leaving Costa Rica with more than 7,800 stranded migrants living in 38 shelters across the country.” [L.A. Times, “U.S.-bound Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica camps,” 1/20/16]

Texas Experiencing Surge Of Cuban Migrants. “Texas is seeing a surge in immigration from Cuba amid fears that the U.S. policy granting them automatic residence could soon end. About 8,000 migrants have been stranded in Costa Rica since mid-November when Nicaragua closed its border. Some are now making progress on planes and buses as part of a pilot program. ‘Everybody's worried,’ said Aly Jimenez, a Cuban American who's lived in San Antonio for 23 years. ‘Everybody's worried about their family, why (they were) stopped in Costa Rica for so many days, why people from El Salvador or the other countries, they don't let them pass through.’ Jimenez points to the economic state of Cuba as the problem driving many to the U.S. She owns Diva Nails by Aly and sends money home to her family each month.” [Fox San Antonio, “Cuban migrants begin arriving in Laredo after months-long journey,” 1/15/16]


Miami Officials Grandstand Over Cuba Consulate

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado Claims He Would Sue To Block A Cuban Consulate In Miami Because It “Could Inflame Passions And Create Security Risks.”
 “As Havana and Washington expand their diplomatic embrace, some Miami leaders have a stern message to both parties: Leave us out of it. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said Monday he would sue to block Cuba should the country ever try to open a consulate within city limits. A county resolution set for a vote later this week would urge President Barack Obama not to allow a Cuban consulate in Miami-Dade, saying the satellite embassy ‘could inflame passions and create security risks.’” [Miami Herald, “Miami readies a fight over Cuban consulate,” 1/18/16]

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Steve Bovo: “President Obama Has More In Common With The Castro Brothers Than He Does With The American People.” “The contretemps over a hypothetical Miami Cuban consulate is largely seen as a symbolic fight, because Washington decides where a foreign power may open diplomatic outposts around the country. It’s the latest example of Miami’s political leadership resisting a rapid expansion of governmental and business ties between the United States and Cuba following Obama’s announcement in December 2014 that he was pursuing full diplomatic relations with the Castro regime. ‘President Obama has more in common with the Castro brothers than he does with the American people,’ Bovo said. ‘The president probably had a Che Guevara poster affixed to his wall in college. He has much more in common with the Castros on broad issues.’” [Miami Herald, “Miami readies a fight over Cuban consulate,” 1/18/16]

Top Republican Donor And Cuban-American Mike Fernandez: Miami Is “Logically The Place For A Consulate.”
 “‘Miami is logically the place for a consulate, and it will probably not be the place for a consulate,’ said Mike Fernandez, a Cuban-born healthcare magnate in Coral Gables who is a top Republican donor. He supports ties to Cuba and traveled to Havana last fall as part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s outreach programs. ‘If I was mayor of Miami, I would say I represent everyone in Miami, and I represent the future of Miami. And this is business.’ ‘It’s absolutely time to forgive,’ added Fernandez, chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners. ‘It’s way overdue.’” [Miami Herald, “Miami readies a fight over Cuban consulate,” 1/18/16]

Commissioner Xavier Suarez, Who Voted Against The Resolution: “I Think The People Here Will Act Lawfully…In Fact, It’s A Good Place To Go And Demonstrate.” 
“Voting against the resolution were commissioners Barbara Jordan, Daniella Levine Cava and Xavier Suarez. During debate on the issue, Jordan said, ‘Miami is the most logical place to come.’ ‘We have to start healing somewhere,” she said. ‘And to me, it’s a process of healing.’ Suarez, who hails from Las Villas, Cuba, told a reporter that the decision is ultimately up to the federal government. ‘It’s not within our jurisdiction,” Suarez said. ‘I don’t have any major concern about having to protect the people that are there, because I think the people here will act lawfully. ‘In fact, it’s a good place to go and demonstrate.’” [Miami Herald, “Miami-Dade County leaders oppose Cuban consulate in Miami,” 1/20/16]


Cuba Struggling to Keep Down Food Costs

Cuba Attempts To Restore Price Controls To Deal With Rising Food Costs. “Cuba is backtracking on some key agricultural reforms and experimenting with restoring price controls in the face of public demands that the government tame rising food costs. Prices are up because of limited production, poor weather and greater demand fueled in part by the market-oriented reforms championed by President Raul Castro. Those reforms, which the government says will modernize its socialist economic model, have led to growing numbers of wealthier Cubans even as most workers have seen food prices grow far faster than their state salaries. With new market rules in play, but limited food supplies, prices have floated toward what affluent Cubans can afford. Aware of public sentiment and eager to contain inequalities, the government is now buying, distributing and selling more food at fixed prices.” [Reuters, “In a reversal, Cuba tries price controls to tame food inflation,” 1/20/16]


Cuban-American Business Owner: Embargo Stifling Entrepreneurship

Cuban-American Business Owner Marisol Bonachea: Embargo Stifling American Entrepreneurs And Local Economies. “Recently, my business was approved by the Cuban government to access the island's only solar salt mine co-op, with prices of importing salt a fraction of what they are from other nations. As an American entrepreneur with an in-depth understanding of the dire consequences of the salt shortage in New Jersey, I was thrilled to be able to offer the New Jersey Department of Transportation a common-sense solution that would benefit all involved. Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress– which continues to cling to a 50-year-old trade embargo against Cuba– doesn't care much about making common-sense decisions when it comes to trade with the island.”

Bonachea: “Why Is The Cuban Government Moving Faster Than Our Own Government To Help Support An American-Owned Business?” “Since the embargo is still firmly in place despite the one-year anniversary of thawed relations between the two countries, I am still currently waiting for approval to import Cuban salt from the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the United States Treasury. While salt is granular in nature, the overall issue is not. Going through the process of trying to import salt, I had to ask myself – why is the Cuban government moving faster than our own government to help support an American-owned business? The U.S. Congress should not be in the business of stifling American entrepreneurs and our local economies.” [New Jersey Star-Ledger, “This winter N.J. can benefit from a trade thaw with Cuba,” 1/20/16]


Top Republican Donor Expresses Support For A Presidential Trip To Cuba

Republican Mike Fernandez: President Obama Could Speak “Unfettered Words Of Freedom And Opportunities To All” In A Trip To Cuba. “It’s evident that after almost six decades the Cuban leadership has survived anything and everything we have thrown at them. Is it not about time to change from a strategy that we have followed without success? Let’s focus on helping the 11 million innocent souls versus hurting the tens of thousands who reign over them. Why not allow President Obama to speak unfettered words of freedom and opportunities to all? It may just inspire the many. It may even inspire some of the ruling class. A window has been opened and we must take advantage of it.” [Miami Herald, “Obama’s Cuba visit could help business,” 1/18/16]

Fernandez: Suggest A Message For Cubans Who’d Receive The First Presidential Visit In Decades. “I’ve never regretted speaking to an adversary. Talking leads to understanding. Understanding leads to change. Let’s support this trip and let’s suggest a message as every Cuban citizen will be watching the first U.S. presidential visit in over 60 years.” [Miami Herald, “Obama’s Cuba visit could help business,” 1/18/16]


Conservative Republican Congressman Leads Fight To End Embargo In The House

Rep. Tom Emmer: Decision To Lift The Trade Embargo Is Motivated By His Meeting With The Cuban People. “The U.S. House freshman who represents Minnesota's most conservative congressional district has taken on a daunting challenge: Persuading entrenched Republicans to rise above generations of partisan feuding and lift the trade embargo on Cuba. Republican Rep. Tom Emmer took a trip to Havana last year that dramatically reshaped his perspective on the island under communist rule. He said he was not moved by the policy arguments or pressure by American businesses looking to cash in, but by the Cuban people.” [Star-Tribune, “In GOP, Emmer takes the lead on Cuba,” 1/17/16]

Emmer: Cuban People “Want An Opportunity To Self-Determine.” “Emmer now talks about translators and professors and seamstresses whose lives would be changed if the embargo were lifted. Cuban people, he says, are asking for more opportunity and the chance to do business with America to help themselves. ‘You really have to put yourself in the shoes of the people to understand where they're coming from. They've been taught that capitalism is a bad thing, but they want an opportunity to self-determine,’ Emmer said. ‘They want to grow and be doing business with America and Americans. … They have survived the worst of times.’” [Star-Tribune, “In GOP, Emmer takes the lead on Cuba,” 1/17/16]

¡No Me Digas!

First Generation Cuban-American May Be “The Next Einstein.” “Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski was only 14 years old when she stepped foot into MIT’s campus offices seeking approval one morning for the single-engine plane she built. Fast forward eight years and the 22-year-old is now an MIT graduate and Harvard Ph.D. candidate interested in answering some of the most complex questions in physics, according to Yahoo. The first-generation Cuban-American woman has already received job offers from Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, and aerospace developer and manufacturer Blue Origin. NASA has also shown interest in the young physicist. Pasterski’s study seeks to explore black holes and spacetime and she is particularly concentrated on explaining gravity through the context of quantum mechanics.” [NextShark, “Meet the 22-Year-Old Physics Genius That Harvard Believes is the Next Einstein,” 1/15/16]