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Freddy Balsera: GOP Should Stop Playing Politics With Cuba

Tallahassee, FL —  Today the Florida Democratic Party released the following statement from Hispanic community leader Freddy Balsera urging Republicans to stop playing politics with people’s emotions on Cuba:  

“Republicans need to stop playing with people’s emotions when it comes to Cuba.  While they grab headlines criticizing the President and distorting his record on Cuba, they avoid saying that Mariela Castro actually received a visa to visit the US in 2002 under the Bush Administration.  In fact, the top State Department Official in charge of Latin America at the time was a Cuban American.  Where was their criticism then?  Nowhere, because ultimately this is all about politics for them.

The Cuban American community supports the President’s approach toward Cuba because it is making Cubans on the island less dependent on the government; it allows for families to support each other and stay connected; and it facilitates more flow of information to and from the island.  While maintaining the embargo, the President has advocated for the release of all political prisoners and pushed for democracy and greater human rights for Cubans.  The President has also engaged directly with the courageous dissidents on the island, like Yoani Sanchez and the Ladies in White, who are on the ground fighting day after day for a free society. “


“Ya es hora que los Republicanos dejen de jugar con los sentimientos del pueblo cuando se trata de Cuba.  Mientras que crean titulares criticando al Presidente y distorsionando su récord con respecto a Cuba, ellos omiten que Mariela Castro recibió una visa para visitar a los Estados Unidos en el año 2002 bajo la Administración Bush.  De hecho, el funcionario a cargo de la política latinoamericana dentro del Departamento de Estado en ese momento era un cubano americano republicano.  ¿Porqué los republicanos en ese momento no criticaron? Es evidente que la postura de ellos ahora es pura politiquería.

La politica del Presidente hacia Cuba tiene el apoyo de la comunidad cubano americana porque hace a los cubanos en la isla menos dependientes del gobierno; les permite a las familias poder apoyarse y mantenerse en contacto; y facilita mas intercambio de información desde allá y acá.  Mientras que el Presidente mantiene el embargo, el también ha abogado por la libertad de todos los presos políticos y ha empujado por la democracia y los derechos humanos para los cubanos.  El Presidente también se ha dirigido directamente a los valientes disidentes en la isla, como Yoani Sanchez y Las Damas de Blanco, quienes están luchando día a día desde adentro por una sociedad libre.”



Mariela Castro Received A Visa To Visit The United States Under The Bush Administration In 2002. “Despite the controversy, it is apparently not the first time Mariela Castro has gone to the United States. The official at her institute said Castro went to America in 2002 to receive an award for her work.” [AP, 5/17/12]

Otto Reich Was Assistant Secretary Of State For Western Hemisphere Affairs, Was The Highest Ranking State Department Official On Latin America In 2002. “Several incoming officials advocate an unyielding hostility toward Cuba and the maintenance, if not strengthening, of a trade embargo that is four decades old. The policy being promoted by people like Otto J. Reich, a Cuban exile who is the State Department’s top policy maker for Latin America, is increasingly placing the administration at odds with farmers, business executives and a growing number of members of Congress — including many Republicans — who have been pushing for trade with Cuba.” [New York Times, 2/3/02]


The President Is Committed To Supporting Policies That Advance The Cuban People’s Ability To Determine To Their Country’s Future And Lessen Their Dependence On The Cuban State. “The promotion of democracy and human rights in Cuba is in the national interest of the United States and is a key component of this Nation’s foreign policy in the Americas. Measures that decrease dependency of the Cuban people on the Castro regime and that promote contacts between Cuban-Americans and their relatives in Cuba are means to encourage positive change in Cuba. The United States can pursue these goals by facilitating greater contact between separated family members in the United States and Cuba and increasing the flow of remittances and information to the Cuban people.” [The White House, 4/13/09]

President Obama Changed Regulations On U.S.-Cuba Travel, To Enhance The Free Flow Of Information.  “The President has directed that changes be made to regulations and policies governing:  (1) purposeful travel; (2) non-family remittances; and (3) U.S. airports supporting licensed charter flights to and from Cuba.  These measures will increase people-to-people contact; support civil society in Cuba; enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities.” [White House Blog, 1/14/11]

Estimates Suggest 400,000 Americans Visited Cuba in 2011, Nearly 4 Times The Number Who Visited In 2008. “Economists and travel agents estimate that 400,000 passengers will fly to Cuba from the United States this year, nearly four times the number in 2008 — and more than at any time since the United States cut ties with the island some 50 years ago, they say.” [New York Times, 6/11/11]

St. Petersburg (FL) Times: Obama Travel Changes Should “Foster Freedom On The Island In A Way The Failed 50 Year Old Embargo Has Not.” “The Tampa Bay region scored a major victory last week when the Obama administration announced that it will ease travel barriers to Cuba. The moves will make it easier and cheaper for Cuban-Americans to visit their families; for students, scholars and religious groups to increase their understanding of the island nation 90 miles off the coast of Florida; and for business interests to lay the groundwork for new trade opportunities. The changes bring some sanity to U.S.-Cuba policy and mark a new chapter in that relationship for the Bay Area. … The administration deserves credit for breaking down the travel barriers in a broad way. … These changes should only strengthen [historic ties between Tampa Bay and Cuba], ultimately fostering freedom on the island in a way the failed 50-year-old trade embargo has not.” [EDITORIAL: St. Petersburg Times, 1/18/11] 

Tampa Tribune: President Obama’s Decision To Change Travel Rules Is “A Victory For Common Sense And Fairness.”  “President Obama’s decision to allow charter flights to Cuba from any qualified airport clearly will benefit Tampa and the many Cuban-Americans living here with loved ones on the island. The policy change is a victory for common sense and fairness. … As we have said before, the view that this nation’s respect for human rights and liberty demands that Cuba be punished until it improves has been given ample time, and it has failed. Polls show the public view has changed and that even most Cuban-Americans now question the hard-line isolationist policy. … And more importantly, [opening Cuba] would, we believe, improve Cuba’s chances for peaceful reform.  We are reminded of the wisdom of the late journalist Walter Lippmann, who said in 1959, ‘The thing we should never do in dealing with revolutionary countries, in which the world abounds, is to push them behind an iron curtain raised by ourselves. On the contrary, even when they have been seduced and subverted and are drawn across the line, the right thing to do is to keep the way open for their return.’ The World Trade Center Tampa Bay and many other business interests, along with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa and a bipartisan group of politicians, are right to keep pushing to open the door. [EDITORIAL: Tampa Tribune, 1/20/11]


President Obama Has Repeatedly Renewed The U.S. Trade Embargo On Cuba. [Presidential Memorandum 2011-15, 9/13/11]

President Has Promised To Support The Liberty Of The Cuban People And Will Continue To Reach Out To Cuban People And Provide Humanitarian Assistance To Dissidents. “The United States will not waver in our support for the liberty of the Cuban people.  We will remain steadfast in our outreach to the Cuban people through unlimited Cuban American family visits and remittances, purposeful travel, and humanitarian assistance to dissidents and their families in support of their legitimate desire to freely determine Cuba’s future.” [The White House, 1/20/12]

President Obama Made Clear That He Did Not Believe Reforms In Cuba Have Been “Aggressive Enough.” “President Obama said the Cuban authorities had indicated they wanted to make changes to allow businesses to operate more freely. But, he said, there was no evidence that they had been sufficiently aggressive in doing this. ‘And they certainly have not been aggressive enough when it comes to liberating political prisoners and giving people the opportunity to speak their minds’, Mr Obama said.”  [BBC, 9/13/11]

President Obama Has Been Clear About Steps The Cuban Government Must Take Before He Would Consider Lifting The Embargo. “What we’re looking for is some signal that there are going to be changes in how Cuba operates that assures that political prisoners are released, that people can speak their minds freely, that they can travel, that they can write and attend church, and do the things that people throughout the hemisphere can do and take for granted.  And if there’s some sense of movement on those fronts in Cuba, then I think that we can see a further thawing of relations and further changes.” [White House, 4/3/09]

President Obama Granted An “Interview” To Cuban Blogger And Dissident Yoani Sanchez.“Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez has quickly emerged as one of the best-known critics of the Castro regime. The Monitor met with her last year in a café in Havana after she had won Spain’s prestigious Ortega y Gasset award. Since then she has been chosen as one of Time’s 100 most influential people for her daily blog, Generation Y, and won Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s Maria Moors Cabot Prize (which made even more news because Cuban officials denied her a visa to travel to New York to accept the award).” [CS Monitor, 11/20/09]

President Obama Spoke Out In Honor Of Laura Pollan And the Ladies In White. “President Obama’s White House is honoring a Cuban dissident who died Friday. Laura Pollan, 63, founded an opposition group called Ladies in White, wives of Cuban political prisoners who for nearly a decade staged weekly protests against Fidel Castro’s regime. ‘Through their brave actions, the Ladies in White draw attention to the plight of those who are unjustly held in Cuba’s prisons and pushed Cuban authorities to release those political prisoners wrongly jailed in the Spring of 2003.” [USA Today, 12/15/11

In 2011, The National Endowment For Democracy Awarded The Democracy Service Medal To Laura Pollan. Today, as the National Endowment for Democracy awards the Democracy Service Medal posthumously to Laura Pollán, the founder of Las Damas de Blanco, we honor and celebrate her life by recognizing her significant contributions to the struggle to defend human rights in Cuba.” [President Obama, 12/14/11]


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