May 17, 2022

Florida political leaders react to change in Cuba policy

News that President Joe Biden’s administration will return to normalization efforts with Cuba drew immediate response in Florida’s political world. Word the administration will allow flights to Cuba and re-establish a family reunification program was first reported by the Miami Herald.

A joint statement was released by some of Congress’ sharpest Cuba critics, including Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Giménez and María Elvira Salazar. Besides the Florida leaders, the statement was joined by GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Ted Cruz of Texas and James Risch of Idaho, and by Reps. Mark Green of Tennessee and Michael McCaul of Texas.

“During Cuba’s historic anti-regime protests last year, President Biden said ‘(t)he United States stands with the brave Cubans who have taken to the streets to oppose 62 years of repression under a communist regime.’ Yet today, while hundreds of activists remain unlawfully imprisoned, the White House is resurrecting President (Barack) Obama’s failed policy of unilateral concessions to the Castro/(Miguel) Díaz-Canel criminal dictatorship,” the lawmakers said.

“Rather than supporting their pleas for freedom by expanding democracy programming, broadcasting, global diplomacy, and sanctions against their oppressors, the Biden White House is rewarding the Western Hemisphere’s longest ruling communist dictatorship with high level talks, easing sanctions, increased travel, and access to U.S. financial institutions. Appeasing Cuba’s murderous regime does not comply with the statutory requirements in U.S. law and undercuts America’s support for Cuba’s democratic opposition.”

Rubio’s Senate campaign issued another statement pressuring Democratic opponent Rep. Val Demings.

“Every time Joe Biden makes another disastrous foreign policy decision, Val Demings tiptoes around it with a half-baked response. So when Demings does put out a half-hearted statement about today’s horrendous move, know that her words won’t change her record of supporting Joe Biden’s agenda 100% of the time. Demings had nothing to say about the plight of the Cuban people until she announced her run for Senate, and her political games won’t fool Florida voters,” said Rubio spokesperson Elizabeth Gregory.

Demings released a statement through her campaign supporting some of the policy changes but still calling for sanctions on Cuba.

She said: “We must maintain a strong economic embargo and make Cuba’s Communist regime pay for its human rights abuses. I am encouraged by policies that will reunite families and raise the cap on family remittances, but allowing investments in the Cuban private sector and easing travel restrictions will only serve to fund the corrupt dictatorship. In the Senate, I will always put the Cuban people and their struggle for freedom and democracy first and hold the corrupt regime accountable for its crimes.”

Rubio also separately tweeted: “The regime in Cuba threatened Biden with mass migration and have sympathizers inside the administration and the result is today we see the first steps back to the failed Obama policies on Cuba.”

There was no shortage of commentary from Florida leaders.

Scott separately said he would take action in the Senate on the policy change. “Joe Biden’s appeasement of the illegitimate communist Cuban regime is disgusting. The administration claims they are helping the people but have done nothing to secure the freedom of political prisoners like José Daniel Ferrer, who are subjected to physical and psychological torture in an attempt to end their life. Since the July 11th protests, instead of standing with the freedom-loving people of Cuba, Joe Biden has shown weakness and cowardice — bowing to the demands of a murderous regime instead of standing for democracy and human rights. It is sickening and why I will be holding ALL relevant nominees that have been reported favorably by committees to the Senate Floor until the decision is reversed.

“Biden can frame this however he wants, but this is the truth: this is nothing but an idiotic attempt to return to Obama’s failed appeasement policies and clear sign of support for the evil regime. Maybe Joe Biden is hoping that he, like his pal Obama, will also get to sit front row with the regime at a baseball game. There is no reasonable justification for this. It will funnel tons of cash to the regime and its military forces — giving it even more power to keep the Cuban people under its communist control. And the cost of this disastrous policy choice? More brutal oppression for the Cuban people. If you don’t know how this works, just ask Sirley Ávila León. After Obama made his sweetheart deal with the regime, the secret police in Cuba came to her house with a machete and chopped her hand off and then stuck in the mud so she would get an infection. Why? Because she complained that a school in her neighborhood was getting shut down. That’s the evil regime Joe Biden is cozying up to. Obama’s deal didn’t change the regime’s oppression and neither will Biden’s. Unfortunately, we knew this was coming. Last week, I asked Biden’s State Department in committee if the administration was planning to ease sanctions. They said, ‘No comment.’ It was a shameful admission and now we know what we must do. This appeasement cannot stand and I will do everything in my power to fight it every single day.”

Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democratic candidate for Governor, tweeted: “I am encouraged by this announcement from President Biden, and it is my hope that this will improve the quality of life for everyday Cubans on the island, while giving Cuban-Americans the freedom to visit, support, and reunite with their families. I look forward to continuing to engage the Administration, along with Cuban community leaders, to make sure that entrepreneurship dollars go to mamás y papás and not to companies run by the military establishment. If the Cuban people have alternatives to the communist regime for internet access and financial services, this could be a game changer for freedom and democracy in Cuba. ¡Patria y vida! ¡Cuba será libre!”

Díaz-Balart separately tweeted: “I’m outraged that the Biden Admin has decided to weaken sanctions and prop up the oppressive #Cuban regime. While hundreds of political prisoners, including children, languish in Cuban prisons, the Biden Administration is looking for ways to keep their oppressors in power.”

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized the shift. “Biden’s plan to prop up the Cuban dictatorship represents yet another failure when it comes to standing for freedom in our hemisphere,” he tweeted. “Money from ‘tourism’ will go into the pockets of the Cuban regime — and will help fortify the government against those seeking freedom in Cuba.”

At a press conference Tuesday, DeSantis elaborated farther. “We’ve seen this song before. That is, if we are going to increase the amount of money going to a dictatorship, everything that goes on island, they (the government) controls. The idea it will help people who struggle for freedom, we know that’s not to be the case. Last summer, we had a unique opportunity to see freedom flourish for the the first time in decades, and the administration did next to nothing. The even refused to provide internet access… It’s part and parcel with what we’ve seen from this administration, which is, all these people in the western hemisphere who fight against freedom for people, they want to do business with. Maduro in Venezuela, Nicaragua, delisting FARC. The people down in South Florida understand, the minute we are sending more to the island, it will go right into the pocket of a Cuban dictatorship. That is not going to help the Cuban people realize freedom.”

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for Governor, issued the following: “As Floridians, we recognize the suffering of the Cuban people and the pain it brings to Cuban communities in Florida. We must also ensure Cuban Americans can visit and support their families. That’s why we need to be out of the business of dividing Cuban families — that’s what the Cuban regime does. I support the relentless pursuit of greater connectivity to, from and among the Cuban people. But we must also remain strong in demanding the release of political prisoners, including youth being unjustly held hostage. Now and always, our state and country must pursue foreign policy that puts the Cuban people first and holds the Cuban regime accountable — never letting up until the Cuban people live in a free democratic society.”

Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz issued a lengthy statement generally supportive of the administration.

“First of all, I am reassured that the Biden administration remains committed to the release of the political prisoners taken into custody by the regime after the protests in the island last year. The measures announced today by the Biden administration are encouraging, especially for the thousands of families who remain separated because of the last administration’s draconian policy of practically cancelling migration accords and eliminating the Cuban Family Reunification Parole. The separation of Cuban families has been the most tragic result of the Cuban dictatorship, and this step will help ease the burden for thousands of Cubans.

“The family separation story is one I know well. My mother and I fled Cuba when I was a young child, while my father stayed behind languishing in one of Castro’s prisons. We were reunited with my grandparents in Miami sometime later, and finally with my father, after he was released from jail and was able to join his family in freedom. Thousands of Cuban families have this same story, and they deserve to be reunited. But most importantly, this new policy will prevent hundreds of deaths in the Florida Straits and save countless Cubans from the dangerous trek through Central America and Mexico that can lead to countless tragedies. It’s reassuring to see that this policy strikes a balance between directly helping the everyday Cuban by allowing remittances to flow more freely to the Cuban people while excluding entities of the regime such as FINCIMEX from profiteering off the hard-earned remittances that Cuban-Americans send home. We must maintain the pressure on the regime, but we must also ensure ordinary Cubans do not become collateral damage. Cuba policy is best conducted with a scalpel, not a machete.”

The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, suggested the Biden reversal of Trump era policy would go poorly with Florida voters.

“Florida Democrats have 99 problems and Joe Biden’s relentless appeasement of communist dictatorships is definitely one of them,” said RNC spokesperson Julie Friedland.

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