Cuba remains a hot issue in Florida
By KEVIN DERBY
With Cuban officials in New York this week at United Nations meetings, members of the Florida congressional delegation offered their thoughts on how the U.S. should handle the communist regime leading that nation.
Three South Florida Republicans–U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen–joined New Jersey Democrat U.S. Rep. Albio Sires to write U.S. Sec. of State Mike Pompeo on Cuban leader Miguel Diaz-Canel and other members of the communist regime visiting the U.S. this week.
“As the son of Cuban exiles who fled the Castro regime, I find it deeply concerning that operatives who support the Cuban dictatorship, a regime responsible for countless human rights violations and deaths of innocent Cubans, continue to obtain U.S. visas with ease while those fighting for democracy or trying to visit family deal with backlog,” Curbelo said on Tuesday. “The United States must not allow Cuban government propagandists to continue abusing their privilege while the people of Cuba suffer.”
“We write to express our profound concern regarding press reports of an upcoming visit to the United States by an estimated eighteen Cuban regime operatives, including its titular dictator Miguel Diaz-Canel,” the four representatives wrote Pompeo on Friday. “On February 26, 2018, the undersigned members expressed profound concern regarding the difficulty that Cuban pro-democracy and human rights advocates face when requesting U.S. entry. In the March 26, 2018 response to this letter, we were informed that, ‘In the case of Cuban officials, those visas are solely to staff their Embassy or Mission to the United Nations, or to attend meetings with U.S. officials consistent with the national security and public health priorities described in the National Security Presidential Memorandum ‘Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba’.’ However, on April 26, 2018, the undersigned members again expressed dismay that numerous pro-regime operatives received visas which gave them the ability to spread the regime’s propaganda at a major event at the Kennedy Center in May 2018. In addition, although it has been nearly a year since reduced staffing at the U.S. post in Havana, we understand that those who applied under the Cuban Family Reunification Parole (CFRP) program are still awaiting review of their cases. It remains troubling that regime and pro-regime individuals seem to receive U.S. visas with relative ease, yet pro-democracy activists and others seeking to escape tyranny must face exorbitant fees, travel burdens, and significant delays when requesting U.S. entry.
“The perpetrators of some of the world’s worst human rights abusers have not earned the special privilege of U.S. entry,” they continued. “The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation documented 219 political arrests in August, with a total of 2,024 documented political arrests through August of this year. One of the most troubling of those arrests was that of Alejandro Pupo Echemendia, whom family members and witnesses say appeared to be severely abused while in custody of the National Revolutionary Police. Meanwhile, human rights activist Dr. Eduardo Cardet has remained unjustly imprisoned since November 2016 for his expressions of opposition to the regime in Cuba. In addition, the Cuban regime continues to assist in subverting democracy in Venezuela and Nicaragua, and failed to uphold the Vienna Convention’s mandate to protect foreign diplomats and their families stationed in Havana from debilitating attacks.
“Accordingly, and within all applicable rules and regulations, we urge you to carefully weigh the advisability, given the president’s policy of supporting the democratic opposition and the limited consular services available, of providing U.S. entry to representatives of the brutal, anti-American regime in Cuba. U.S. entry is an extraordinary privilege, and should not be used to reward a brutal dictatorship while simultaneously marginalizing those that the regime attempts to silence. Perversely, the reduction in staff due to the attacks on U.S. personnel in Cuba appear to be serving the regime’s interests in crippling consular services and outreach to the Cuban people. Meanwhile, the regime’s ability to spread its propaganda and anti-American activities is relatively unimpeded. For these reasons, we respectfully urge you to reconsider providing visas to representatives of a regime that oppresses its people while aiding America’s adversaries,” they wrote in conclusion.
While those three members continued to stand against the communist regime in Cuba, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., met with Diaz-Canel and continued to push for a better relationship with the Cuban government.
“For the first time in nearly six decades, the world is seeing Cuba without a Castro at the helm,” Castor said after the meeting on Monday. “For the United States, this is a new opportunity for improved relations with our neighbor just 90 miles off the Florida coast – one we cannot afford to let slip by. During the meeting, I stressed the importance of continued dialogue and engagement between the U.S. and Cuba to benefit the citizens of both countries. President Díaz-Canel expressed the hope for normal relations between the two countries as well.
“I shared the desire of Tampa families and businesses for greater opportunities in education, trade, health care, agriculture and more. The Cuban government has sent mixed messages and not followed through on some shared business plans during the most significant transition of power that occurred over the past couple of years. Cuba’s new leader has the opportunity to usher in a number of positive changes on the island and we encouraged him to focus on improving the everyday lives of Cubans including increased access to the internet and support for the Cuban private sector,” she added before turning her attention to the Trump administration’s handling of Cuba.
“Now, with the Trump administration’s return to Cold War policies toward the island, it is more difficult to build trust and successfully push for improvements in family travel and human rights,” Castor said. “At a time of historic transition in the leadership of Cuba and revision to its constitution, Trump has practically shut down the American embassy and America’s presence on the island including political officers that monitor human rights and promote American interests. This is unfortunate and unwise.
“Our wide-ranging conversation included a bipartisan and bicameral group of members of Congress and ranged from renewable energy, human rights, agriculture, travel, Venezuela, Colombia, telecommunications and even Major League Baseball,” she added. “Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, director general of the United States Department at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Carlos Fernández de Cossío, and Cuban Ambassador to the United States José Cabañas also were in attendance, as well as President Díaz-Canel’s wife Lis Cuesta Peraza.”