In Miami, Trump morphs back into a Cuba hardliner – Politico
Donald Trump once called President Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba “fine” and said that, though he would’ve cut a better deal, “50 years is enough” for the U.S. embargo.
But during a Friday rally in Miami, Trump sounded very much like every other Republican presidential nominee promising to keep a hard line on Cuba as he seeks the support of the influential Cuban-American exile community.
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“All the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them — and that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands. Not my demands. Our demands,” Trump said, as 2,500 supporters cheered him on.
“Those demands are religious and political freedom for the Cuban people. And the freeing of political prisoners,” Trump said before questioning whether he hit the correct pro-embargo notes: “Is that right?”
The crowd cheered.
Those demands for a free Cuba have been U.S. policy for years. And Trump once firmly stood with the exile community on the issue. But as a presidential candidate this cycle, Trump began softening his position and has sounded less enthusiastic about the embargo, a sentiment that’s even shared by Miami-Dade County’s changing Cuban-American community, where 54 percent now favor lifting the sanctions in a new poll.
Democrat Hillary Clinton last year called for the lifting of the embargo, which was ironically signed into federal law by her husband, President Bill Clinton, after the 1996 Cuban shootdown of planes flown by a Miami-based Cuban-rafter relief group called “Brothers to the Rescue.”
For one of the leaders of the exile community, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) — whose brother, former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), had pressured Clinton to codify the embargo in an election-year move — Trump’s answer was welcome. Unsure of Trump’s position on Cuba, Diaz-Balart has asked Trump for months to clarify where he stood on the issue and other foreign-policy questions.
But Trump has yet to respond, though his Friday speech comforted Diaz-Balart.
“That’s a huge statement. And it’s an important statement,” Diaz-Balart said of Trump’s comments. “And it showed he understands the reality. It is a huge contrast between the appeasement of Obama-Clinton policy.”
Trump’s return to hardline embargo politics has a clear political benefit. Miami-Dade, where 72 percent of the registered Republicans are Hispanics (and nearly all Cuban-Americans), has more Republicans than any other county in the state. It was also the only county to vote for his opponent in the March 15 presidential primary, hometown son and Sen. Marco Rubio, who dropped out of the race and is now running for reelection.
Polls show Trump is slightly leading Clinton in Florida, but tepid Cuban-American support could help cost him Florida, a state he needs to win to keep his White House hopes alive.
Trump’s Miami visit and speech weren’t solely limited to Cuban-Americans. He spoke of solidarity with Venezuela, whose exiles are increasing in South Florida as the South American government becomes increasingly totalitarian. Earlier, he met with a group of Haitian-community leaders.
Still, Cuban-Americans are crucial for Trump. And the absence of top exile leaders at his rally was notable.
While Rubio has endorsed Trump, most major Republican leaders of the Cuban-American community in Miami-Dade are staying away from the GOP nominee, many because of his harsh rhetoric concerning immigration. Diaz-Balart is the only one of the three Cuban-American Republican House members to support Trump, albeit tepidly.
A year ago, when asked his opinion of Obama’s Cuba policy, Trump told the Daily Caller: “I think it’s fine. I think it’s fine, but we should have made a better deal. The concept of opening with Cuba — 50 years is enough — the concept of opening with Cuba is fine. I think we should have made a stronger deal.”
Then, during a March Republican presidential primary debate in Miami, Trump made sure to criticize Obama’s deal but said, “I think I’m somewhere in the middle. What I want is I want a much better deal to be made because right now, Cuba is making – as usual with our country, we don’t make good deal. We don’t have our right people negotiating, we have people that don’t have a clue.”
Trump’s opponent at the time, Rubio, scoffed at the idea of negotiating with Cuba if it doesn’t meet U.S. demands.
“I’ll tell you what the good deal now, it’s already codified. Here’s a good deal — Cuba has free elections, Cuba stops putting people in jail for speaking out, Cuba has freedom of the press,” Rubio said. “Cuba kicks out the Russians … and kicks out the Chinese … Cuba stops helping North Korea evade U.N. sanctions, Cuba takes all of those fugitives of America justice, including that cop killer from New Jersey, and send her back to the United States and to jail where she belongs. And you know what? Then we can have a relationship with Cuba. That’s a good deal.”
Then, in an August interview with The Miami Herald, Trump gave one detail about what his version of a deal with Cuba would include: barring Cuba from seeking reparations over losses alleged incurred by the U.S. embargo.
On Friday, Trump offered no more details but insisted it would make “great deals before we do anything with Cuba or anybody else.”
“How many people are from Cuba here?” Trump asked as much of the crowd stood and cheered. “We’ll do it with great deals. We’ll do it with democracy and we’ll do it the way we have to do it. We’ll do it the right way.”