Barack Obama Archives - Page 6 of 82 - Florida Politics

Ralph Fernandez convinced Obama policy on Cuba a major factor in Florida going red

Did President Obama’s latest executive actions regarding Cuba policy in October incite hardline exiles to vote for Donald Trump in large enough numbers to help him win Florida? That belief was pushed by some in the immediate days after the election, and is getting more life from a Hillary Clinton supporter who knows the Cuban exile community very well in the wake of Fidel Castro’s death over the weekend.

Ralph Fernandez is a lifelong Democrat who helped raise money for Clinton’s campaign in Tampa this year. He’s also an attorney who defended many who went up against Castro’s government, and he says the exile community did everything possible to make sure that Clinton didn’t win the state.

“I knew that the efforts from Tampa – Kathy Castor, the presidential announcement, the way that it was carried out – was going to create problems for Hillary in the elections, and it did, because the dinosaurs … came together as they had never done to vote for Trump, a president-elect who will do nothing for Cuba, despite what he promised,” Fernandez said on Saturday.

Obama’s rapprochement with the Castro government began in December 2014, when he announced he had reached a deal with Cuba to begin to normalize relations. Since then, embassies have reopened in both countries, the U.S. has loosened trade and travel restrictions, and Obama visited the island there in March.  His latest foray took place last month,  when he announced that he was removing limits on the import of Cuban cigars and rum. Shortly after that, he ordered U.N. Ambassador Samantha Powers to abstain from a vote condemning the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba. Whether those moves changed opinion among Cuban-Americans in Florida, the fact of the matter is that support for Trump among that demographic shifted from 33 percent in September to 52 percent just before the election, according to a New York Times/Sienna poll.

Although a virulent anti-Castro critic, Fernandez is a Democrat who backed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and raised funds for Clinton in 2016. He also used to be an ally of Castor, but their relationship was fractured after Castor returned from Cuba in 2013 and called for an end to the fifty-year plus economic embargo against the communist island.

“I told her this was only the wrong thing to do, but it was just going to piss off these old Cubans in Miami that were out to pasture already and may have found that it was too hot or too inconvenient to go out that day, too difficult to read through the lengthy ballot and so forth, and it would just decrease the numbers, and decrease the interest,” Fernandez says.

While public opinion polls have shown a generational divide on the president’s moves towards Cuba (and general support overall for the policy change), the older generation of the Cuban-American community in Florida are in many cases single-issue voters regarding Cuba, Fernandez says. “They were constantly being confronted by the issue of the consulate and this and that, and so it just upset them so that their numbers were astronomic.” But he believes that many of those Cuban exile voters who supported Trump will  be solely disappointed by what they end up getting, and says it should have been just as upsetting that the president-elect was attempting to do business in Cuba as well, as alleged by Newsweek and Bloomberg.

“I told many of my friends, ‘can you believe that you are going to support the guy who was trying to do business in Cuba when I was representing the shoot down of the Brothers to The Rescuewhen I spent 1,000 hours on the skyjacking case or when I represented Rene Cruz in the California case with the two other defendants out there, while I was dedicating my life and and thousand of hours pro bono, and I’m nearly a million dollars out of my pocket defending these causes, and we were adamant about anybody violating the Trading with the Enemy Act going to prison, and now this you’re overlooking this?” Fernandez said with exasperation.

He said those same friends didn’t want to hear about that, and instead would shift the conversation about how President Obama had offended them and they were concerned about a Cuban consulate coming to Tampa. “And that’s all you heard in that community,” he says.

Not everyone agrees with Fernandez theory.

A week after the election results, Cuban American communication strategist Giancarlo Sopo’s wrote up an analysis of the Cuban American vote in Florida, and concluded that it was “fiction” to conclude that Obama’s Cuban policy cost Clinton Florida in the election.

Rick Scott may serve as model, and warning, for Donald Trump

He was opposed by the Republican establishment. During a contentious campaign, he spoke forcefully about the need to crack down on immigration. And he used millions of his own money to bolster his political career.

President-elect Donald Trump? No, Rick Scott, the current governor of Florida.

While they are oceans apart in temperament and public demeanor, Scott and Trump were both political neophytes who came from a business background and won elections despite being viewed as longshots unable to convince voters to look past their controversial histories. Scott and Trump, who is vacationing this week at his home in Palm Beach, are also long-time friends.

“One of the reasons I always believed he would win Florida … is that Florida had already elected someone similar to him,” Scott said when discussing Trump’s nearly 113,000-vote victory in the Sunshine State, which helped propel him to victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

And as the country gets ready for a Trump administration his friend and political ally Scott may prove a valuable example of the challenges that lie ahead.

After being in office for five years Scott has been forced to drop campaign promises, alter his stance on key issues and deal with an ongoing divide with members of his own party.

But Scott has also shown that it can be wrong to underestimate him.

When he first ran for office in 2010, Scott, a multi-millionaire, used his experience as a former health care executive and outsider as a tonic for Florida’s double-digit unemployment rate and struggling economy. His bid for governor was staunchly opposed by GOP leaders who were backing then-Attorney General Bill McCollum.

With a campaign aided by one of the same pollsters who helped Trump, Scott poured tens of millions of his own money to pay for television ads that hammered McCollum over immigration. In the ads, Scott promised to push a law styled on one in Arizona that would allow police to check someone’s immigration status.

Scott’s first-ever foray into campaigning was characterized by his steadfast refusal to meet with editorial boards or seek newspaper endorsements. When he defeated McCollum, he vowed to crack down on the special interests and lobbyists who he contended were “crying in their cocktails” due to his primary victory.

Yet Scott was still considered an underdog against Democrat Alex Sink because back in 1997 he had been forced out of his job as the head of Columbia/HCA amid a federal investigation into fraud. Although Scott was never charged with any wrongdoing the company paid a then-record $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud. Sink hit at Scott, saying Floridians couldn’t trust him. Scott fired back with his own ads that questioned Sink’s dealings while serving as Florida’s elected chief financial officer. He also accused her of cheating during a televised debate because she read a message from a campaign adviser during a commercial break.

After spending more than $70 million of his own money, Scott edged Sink by more than 61,000 votes.

There are key differences between Scott and Trump, points out Brian Burgess, who started working for Scott when he created a group to oppose President Barack Obama‘s health care overhaul and would later serve as Scott’s first communications director. Burgess calls Scott reserved and extremely disciplined, while Trump is more a showman who speaks off the cuff.

“They are totally different personalities, but both are good guys and both of them are misread by the public more so than any other politicians I know,” said Brian Ballard, a top Republican fundraiser in Florida who has worked for Trump as a lobbyist the past several years.

But Scott’s two victories have not ensured him success and he has discovered that being governor is not the same as being a CEO.

When he first started, Scott barred lobbyists from entering his office. He brought in other outsiders as his top staff and initially talked about aggressively pushing his agenda through the Legislature. That changed, however, after legislators scaled back, or rejected many of his ideas, including his push for massive tax cuts. Scott then turned to Tallahassee insiders to help him negotiate with the Legislature.

After the Legislature deadlocked on toughening immigration laws, Scott abandoned the idea. Ahead of his 2014 campaign, Scott even signed into law measures that guaranteed in-state tuition rates to the children of immigrants who entered without legal permission. Scott came into office railing against Obama’s health care overhaul but has changed his position twice on whether to expand Medicaid as allowed under the overhaul.

The governor now finds himself at odds with members of his own party, especially new House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who helped scuttle Scott’s push this year to increase state spending on incentives to lure new businesses to the state. Due to the rifts, Scott has stopped raising money for the Republican Party of Florida.

Another clear parallel between Scott and Trump is that both men are entering office with enormous wealth.

Scott has foregone his $130,000 a year salary, but not his state-subsidized health insurance, and he sold off the state plane and instead uses his own private jet for travel. He placed his assets in a blind trust controlled by a long-time business partner, although that has not shielded him completely from questions of conflicts.

Scott said that Trump would be better off if he followed the Florida governor’s lead on assets. Trump has said he will use a blind trust, but he has said he will place his children in charge of his business empire.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Donald Trump’s hands-on management style to be tested by presidency

President-elect Donald Trump looked at hundreds of marble samples before selecting one for the lobby of Trump Tower. He can recall, in painstaking detail even decades later, how he stood in the cold and oversaw the ice-making process at Central Park’s rink. And, during the campaign, he personally reviewed every single campaign ad, rejecting some over the smallest of perceived flaws.

The hands-on, minutiae-obsessed management style that Trump has relied on for decades in the business world will now be tested by the presidency, an overwhelming job in which his predecessor says only the most challenging decisions even make it to the Oval Office.

“Somebody noted to me that by the time something reaches my desk, that means it’s really hard,” President Barack Obama has said. “Because if it were easy, somebody else would have made the decision and somebody else would have solved it.”

The president-elect, at times, has been reluctant to delegate. But while his multinational business is indeed vast, the scope of the federal government exceeds any of his previous endeavors.

Those close to him are gently suggesting that he will have to do some more delegating given the sheer volume of decisions needed to get his administration up and running, according to a person familiar with private discussions but not authorized to speak about them by name. Trump has chafed at that, but he has signaled willingness to relinquish some personal control.

Over his career, Trump has been highly involved with the decisions he cares deeply about. When building Trump Tower, the Manhattan skyscraper he calls home, he settled upon a rare marble, Breccia Pernice, for the building’s lobby.

But when he inspected the pieces that had been tagged for use, he found some blemishes — prompting a personal trip to Italy.

“So we ended up going to the quarry with black tape and marking off the slabs that were the best,” Trump wrote in his 1987 book, “The Art of the Deal.” ”The rest we just scrapped — maybe 60 percent of the total. By the time we finished, we’d taken the whole top of the mountain and used up much of the quarry.”

At the New York State Republican Dinner in April, Trump stood in front of a group of tuxedo-clad, moneyed, Manhattan peers, confidently pointing out the details in the Grand Hyatt hotel ballroom’s ceiling, remembering how he oversaw the construction process. He then recalled his push to fix Central Park’s Wollman Rink, going into remarkable detail about the contract negotiations, the depth of the concrete, the need to switch from copper piping to rubber hose to keep the ice frozen, and even the conversation he had with the Montreal Canadiens’ head ice-maker to make sure the process went smoothly.

“I hope that’s an interesting story,” Trump told the crowd. “Who the hell wants to talk about politics all the time, right? Politics gets a little boring!”

But Trump almost certainly won’t be able to exert that same of control over his new employees: The federal workforce is more than 2 million people.

Obama frequently cites an observation by his first defense secretary, Robert Gates: “One thing you should know, Mr. President, is that any given moment, on any given day, somebody in the federal government is screwing up.” While Obama praises federal workers, he adds: “Even if you’re firing at a 99.9 percent success rate, that still leaves a lot of opportunity for things not to go as planned.”

Other aspects of Trump’s management style may also not easily translate to the White House. His inner circle is famously small, consisting of longtime allies and his grown children, and his first key West Wing hires — chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Stephen Bannon — bring no policy experience to their new roles.

Trump works long hours and expects those around him to do so as well. He can be quiet and disengaged in discussions about subjects with which he is unfamiliar but is prone to flash his temper and bark at aides. He is also known to go with his gut, is often swayed on positions by the last person he spoke to, and sometimes swoops in late and orders a change in plans, blowing up a travel schedule or policy rollout.

Aides also often float suggestions to him through the media, knowing that Trump is a voracious watcher of cable TV and might be persuaded by what he sees and hears.

Trump, whose TV catchphrase was “You’re fired,” is prone to pitting staffers against each other in both the business world and during his insurgent campaign. Over the summer, he hired Paul Manafort to prepare for the GOP’s convention and watched as staffers loyal to his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, repeatedly clashed with Manafort’s allies. Lewandowski lost the power struggle and was fired. Later, Manafort was dismissed, too, replaced by Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.

Trump, in his 2004 book “How to Get Rich,” described his intense, loyalty-driven style. “I rely on a few key people to keep me informed,” he wrote. “They know I trust them, and they do their best to keep that trust intact.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Marco Rubio talks Cuba policy and American national interest

Sen. Marco Rubio made the rounds of Sunday morning shows this week, discussing Fidel Castro and the way forward for U.S./Cuba relations.

Rubio, a frequent and fierce critic of the current president’s accommodation toward the Cuban government, has voiced an interest in applying more pressure on Havana in the Trump era. His comments Sunday were consistent with that theme, while advancing an interest in making change conditional on real Democratic reforms.


On Meet the Press, Sen. Rubio said that “as far as the practical day to day affairs … Cuba today is governed the same way it was 48 hours ago.”

Rubio noted that Raul Castro is 85 years old himself.

“He’s not Gorbachev. He’s not a reformer thinking of the interests of Cuba long term.”

Rubio believes that Castro wants to continue protecting his friends and family in positions of power, and posited that Fidel hasn’t been in charge for a decade.

Regarding policy, Rubio urged a holistic “look at all changes” in Cuba policy, examining them in the context of the “national interest of the United States.”

“Banking changes,” for example, should be conditional on “specific changes” in Cuba opening its society.

Rubio noted that Cuban policy contravenes American interests in many ways, citing Cuba “harboring fugitives” such as New Jersey cop killer Joanne Chesimard, and Cuba’s quashing of freedoms of press, expression, and organization.

While Rubio is against the kinds of “unilateral changes” that he sees the Obama administration having committed to, he does see a way forward, making moves toward rapprochement conditional on the kinds of changes that happened in Myanmar.

“Our goal is not to punish. Our goal is to figure out what can we do, through U.S. policy, to … look out for the national interest of the United States … to help create an environment where we are creating the potential for a transition to democratic order in Cuba at some point in the near future.”


On Face the Nation, Rubio hit similar themes, saying that a reformed Cuba policy should be linked to Democratic reforms, including expansion of the “free press,” a commitment to “independent political parties,” and the “kinds of things you find in every country in the western hemisphere besides Cuba and, increasingly, Venezuela.”

“Our #1 obligation is to act in the national interest of the United States of America,” Rubio added, and “democracy” in Cuba is key to that.

“I am not against change,” Rubio said, but he wants there to be reciprocity and a “pathway to democracy” in Cuba.

Rubio expects a “generational leadership change” and a “Democratic transition,” and it won’t be a moment too soon for American interests.

Cuba, said Rubio, is a “source of instability in the region,” with an anti-American government that aids and abets Chinese and Russian intelligence efforts, and “harbors fugitives from American justice,” including people who have committed Medicaid fraud and found refuge in the island nation.


The Hill also offered Rubio’s quotes from Sunday on CNN on President Obama’s “pathetic” statement in the wake of Fidel Castro’s death.

Barack Obama is the president of the most powerful country in the world. And what I called pathetic is not mentioning whatsoever in that statement the reality that there are thousands upon thousands of people who suffered brutally under the Castro regime,” Rubio said.

“He executed people.  He jailed people for 20 to 30 years.  The Florida Straits, there are thousands of people who lost their lives fleeing his dictatorship. And not to acknowledge any of that in the statement, I felt was pathetic, absolutely.”

Weeping, hopeful, Cubans look to future without Fidel Castro

Music fell silent, weddings were canceled and people wept in the streets Saturday as Cubans faced their first day without the leader who steered their island to both greater social equality and years of economic ruin.

Across a hushed capital, dozens of Cubans said they felt genuine pain at the death of Fidel Castro, whose words and image had filled schoolbooks, airwaves and front pages since before many were born. And in private conversations, they expressed hope that Castro’s passing will allow Cuba to move faster toward a more open, prosperous future under his younger brother and successor, President Raul Castro.

A woman speaks on a public telephone as a man repairs a wheel in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, the day after Fidel Castro’s death. Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half-century rule of Cuba, died at age 90 in Cuba late Friday, Nov. 25. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

Both brothers led bands of bearded rebels out of the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains to create a communist government 90 miles from the United States. But since taking over from his ailing brother in 2006, the 85-year-old Raul Castro has allowed an explosion of private enterprise and, last year, restored diplomatic relations with Washington.

“Raul wants the country to advance, to do business with the whole world, even the United States,” said Belkis Bejarano, a 65-year-old homemaker in central Havana. “Raul wants to do business, that’s it. Fidel was still holed up in the Sierra Maestra.”

In his twilight years, Fidel Castro largely refrained from offering his opinions publicly on domestic issues, lending tacit backing to his brother’s free-market reforms. But the older Castro surged back onto the public stage twice this year — critiquing President Barack Obama‘s historic March visit to Cuba and proclaiming in April that communism was “a great step forward in the fight against colonialism and its inseparable companion, imperialism.”

People with images of Fidel Castro gather one day after his death in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Cuba will observe nine days of mourning for the former president who ruled Cuba for half a century. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Ailing and without any overt political power, the 90-year-old revolutionary icon became for some a symbol of resistance to his younger sibling’s diplomatic and economic openings. For many other Cubans, however, Fidel Castro was fading into history, increasingly at a remove from the passions that long cast him as either messianic savior or maniacal strongman.

On Saturday, many Cubans on the island described Fidel Castro as a towering figure who brought Cuba free health care, education and true independence from the United States, while saddling the country with an ossified political and economic system that has left streets and buildings crumbling and young, educated elites fleeing in search of greater prosperity abroad.

“Fidel was a father for everyone in my generation,” said Jorge Luis Hernandez, a 45-year-old electrician. “I hope that we keep moving forward because we are truly a great, strong, intelligent people. There are a lot of transformations, a lot of changes, but I think that the revolution will keep on in the same way and always keep moving forward.”

“Fidel’s ideas are still valid. But we can’t look back even for a second,” says Edgardo Casals, a 32-year-old sculptor

In 2013, Raul Castro announced that he would step aside by the time his current presidential term ends in 2018, and for the first time named an heir-apparent not from the Castro’s revolutionary generation — Miguel Diaz-Canel, 56.

Fidel Castro’s death “puts a sharper focus on the mortality of the entire first generation of this revolution,” said Philip Peters, a Cuba analyst and business consultant, “and brings into sharper focus the absence of a group of potential leaders that’s ready to take over and politically connected to the public.”

For Cubans off the island, Castro’s death was cause for celebration. In Miami, the heart of the Cuban diaspora, thousands of people banged pots with spoons, waved Cuban and U.S. flags in the air and whooped in jubilation.

“We’re not celebrating that someone died, but that this is finished,” said 30-year-old Erick Martinez, who emigrated from Cuba four years ago.

The Cuban government declared nine days of mourning for Castro, whose ashes will be carried across the island from Havana to the eastern city of Santiago in a procession retracing his rebel army’s victorious sweep from the Sierra Maestra to Havana. State radio and television were filled with non-stop tributes to Castro, playing hours of footage of his time in power and interviews with prominent Cubans affectionately remembering him.

Bars shut, baseball games and concerts were suspended and many restaurants stopped serving alcohol and planned to close early. Official newspapers were published Saturday with only black ink instead of the usual bright red or blue mastheads.

Members of the Cuban community react to the death of Fidel Castro, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, in the Little Havana area in Miami. Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half-century rule, died at age 90. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Many Cubans, however, were already imagining the coming years in a Cuba without Fidel Castro.

“Fidel’s ideas are still valid,” said Edgardo Casals, a 32-year-old sculptor. “But we can’t look back even for a second. We have to find our own way. We have to look toward the future, which is ours, the younger generations’.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Fidel Castro’s death offers opportunity to reevaluate U.S.-Cuba relations

The death of Fidel Castro reverberated throughout South Florida this weekend, and one expert said it could lead Cuban Americans to reevaluate their positions on the island.

Guillermo Grenier, one of the lead researchers in charge of the FIU Cuba Poll, said the coming weeks and months “will be a time for reevaluation.” Some Cuban Americans, he said, will be faced with deciding whether to double down or take steps to reshape the country.

“The diaspora of Cuban Americans … have an incredible opportunity to influence Cuba,” he said. “Fidel outlived my father, he outlived a lot of presidents. (Now that) Fidel is gone, do you take the opportunity to recognize you can reshape Cuban society.”

The Associated Press reported President Raul Castro announced on state television his older brother died at 10:29 p.m. He died 10 years after a life-threatening illness led him to turn over power to his brother.

“You have this death that has been forecast for many many times and rumored for many others that is actually happening,” said Grenier, who was in Miami’s Little Havana on Saturday morning. “There is jubilation. There is ambivalence. There is mourning. There is all kind of things.”

Grenier was born in Havana, and came to the United States when he was very young. He said his 95-year-old mother is “very happy today.” Grenier, however, said he doesn’t “share that happiness and I don’t share that hate.”

“For me, he’s been not around for a long time. He was alive, but not relevant,” he said. “For me it was just an inevitable moment. It’s one of those moments I talked about with my friends for a long time.”

But Grenier said much has changed in the 10 years since Castro has been out of power, and many of those changes “would not have taken place if he had been in power.”

It is unclear what impact Castro’s death will have on U.S. relations with the small island nation. In 2014, President Barack Obama announced the United States and Cuban would move to restore diplomatic ties for the first time since 1961.

The 2016 FIU Cuba Poll showed a majority of Cuban-American residents in Miami-Dade County favored increasing economic relations with the island. The survey also found 69 percent of respondents supported the decision to open diplomatic relations with Cuba.

But Grenier said many respondents who came to the United States in the 1960s and 1970s still say they would not support relations “until Fidel and Raul are dead.”

“Fifty percent of the equation is gone, and the other 50 percent has turned its back on the initiatives of Fidel,” said Grenier. “Not only is Fidel dead, but a lot of his attitudes are dying. It’s all symbolism. With Fidel out of the way … we have to reevaluate.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who defied U.S. for 50 years, dies at 90

Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule of Cuba, has died at age 90.

With a shaking voice, President Raul Castro said on state television that his older brother died at 10:29 p.m. Friday. He ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan: “Toward victory, always!”

Castro’s reign over the island-nation 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Florida was marked by the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died 10 years after ill health forced him to hand power over to Raul.

Castro overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, exile in Mexico and a disastrous start to his rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana in January 1959 to become, at age 32, the youngest leader in Latin America. For decades, he served as an inspiration and source of support to revolutionaries from Latin America to Africa.

His commitment to socialism was unwavering, though his power finally began to fade in mid-2006 when a gastrointestinal ailment forced him to hand over the presidency to Raul in 2008, provisionally at first and then permanently. His defiant image lingered long after he gave up his trademark Cohiba cigars for health reasons and his tall frame grew stooped.

“Socialism or death” remained Castro’s rallying cry even as Western-style democracy swept the globe and other communist regimes in China and Vietnam embraced capitalism, leaving this island of 11 million people an economically crippled Marxist curiosity.

He survived long enough to see Raul Castro negotiate an opening with U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 17, 2014, when Washington and Havana announced they would move to restore diplomatic ties for the first time since they were severed in 1961. He cautiously blessed the historic deal with his lifelong enemy in a letter published after a monthlong silence. Obama made a historic visit to Havana in March 2016.

Carlos Rodriguez, 15, was sitting in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood when he heard that Fidel Castro had died.

“Fidel? Fidel?” he said, slapping his head in shock. “That’s not what I was expecting. One always thought that he would last forever. It doesn’t seem true.”

“It’s a tragedy,” said 22-year-old nurse Dayan Montalvo. “We all grew up with him. I feel really hurt by the news that we just heard.”

But the news cheered the community of Cuban exiles in Florida who had fled Castro’s government. Thousands gathered in the streets in Miami’s Little Havana to cheer and wave Cuban flags.

Fidel Castro Ruz was born Aug. 13, 1926, in eastern Cuba’s sugar country, where his Spanish immigrant father worked first recruiting labor for U.S. sugar companies and later built up a prosperous plantation of his own.

Castro attended Jesuit schools, then the University of Havana, where he received law and social science degrees. His life as a rebel began in 1953 with a reckless attack on the Moncada military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago. Most of his comrades were killed and Fidel and his brother Raul went to prison.

Fidel turned his trial defense into a manifesto that he smuggled out of jail, famously declaring, “History will absolve me.”

Freed under a pardon, Castro fled to Mexico and organized a rebel band that returned in 1956, sailing across the Gulf of Mexico to Cuba on a yacht named Granma. After losing most of his group in a bungled landing, he rallied support in Cuba’s eastern Sierra Maestra mountains.

Three years later, tens of thousands spilled into the streets of Havana to celebrate Batista’s downfall and catch a glimpse of Castro as his rebel caravan arrived in the capital on Jan. 8, 1959.

The U.S. was among the first to formally recognize his government, cautiously trusting Castro’s early assurances he merely wanted to restore democracy, not install socialism.

Within months, Castro was imposing radical economic reforms. Members of the old government went before summary courts, and at least 582 were shot by firing squads over two years. Independent newspapers were closed and in the early years, homosexuals were herded into camps for “re-education.”

In 1964, Castro acknowledged holding 15,000 political prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled, including Castro’s daughter Alina Fernandez Revuelta and his younger sister Juana.

Still, the revolution thrilled millions in Cuba and across Latin America who saw it as an example of how the seemingly arrogant Yankees could be defied. And many on the island were happy to see the seizure of property of the landed class, the expulsion of American gangsters and the closure of their casinos.

Castro’s speeches, lasting up to six hours, became the soundtrack of Cuban life and his 269-minute speech to the U.N. General Assembly in 1960 set the world body’s record for length that still stood more than five decades later.

As Castro moved into the Soviet bloc, Washington began working to oust him, cutting U.S. purchases of sugar, the island’s economic mainstay. Castro, in turn, confiscated $1 billion in U.S. assets.

The American government imposed a trade embargo, banning virtually all U.S. exports to the island except for food and medicine, and it severed diplomatic ties on Jan. 3, 1961.

On April 16 of that year, Castro declared his revolution to be socialist, and the next day, about 1,400 Cuban exiles stormed the beach at the Bay of Pigs on Cuba’s south coast. But the CIA-backed invasion failed.

The debacle forced the U.S. to give up on the idea of invading Cuba, but that didn’t stop Washington and Castro’s exiled enemies from trying to do him in. By Cuban count, he was the target of more than 630 assassination plots by militant Cuban exiles or the U.S. government.

The biggest crisis of the Cold War between Washington and Moscow exploded on Oct. 22, 1962, when President John F. Kennedy announced there were Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and imposed a naval blockade of the island. Humankind held its breath, and after a tense week of diplomacy, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev removed them. Never had the world felt so close to nuclear war.

Castro cobbled revolutionary groups together into the new Cuban Communist Party, with him as first secretary. Labor unions lost the right to strike. The Catholic Church and other religious institutions were harassed. Neighborhood “revolutionary defense committees” kept an eye on everyone.

Castro exported revolution to Latin American countries in the 1960s, and dispatched Cuban troops to Africa to fight Western-backed regimes in the 1970s. Over the decades, he sent Cuban doctors abroad to tend to the poor, and gave sanctuary to fugitive Black Panther leaders from the U.S.

But the collapse of the Soviet bloc ended billions in preferential trade and subsidies for Cuba, sending its economy into a tailspin. Castro briefly experimented with an opening to foreign capitalists and limited private enterprise.

As the end of the Cold War eased global tensions, many Latin American and European countries re-established relations with Cuba. In January 1998, Pope John Paul II visited a nation that had been officially atheist until the early 1990s.

Aided by a tourism boom, the economy slowly recovered and Castro steadily reasserted government control, stifling much of the limited free enterprise tolerated during harder times.

As flamboyant as he was in public, Castro tried to lead a discreet private life. He and his first wife, Mirta Diaz Balart, had one son before divorcing in 1956. Then, for more than four decades, Castro had a relationship with Dalia Soto del Valle. They had five sons together and were said to have married quietly in 1980.

By the time Castro resigned 49 years after his triumphant arrival in Havana, he was the world’s longest ruling head of government, aside from monarchs.

In retirement, Castro voiced unwavering support as Raul slowly but deliberately enacted sweeping changes to the Marxist system he had built.

His longevity allowed the younger brother to consolidate control, perhaps lengthening the revolution well past both men’s lives. In February 2013, Raul announced that he would retire as president in 2018 and named newly minted Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel as his successor.

“I’ll be 90 years old soon,” Castro said at an April 2016 Communist Party congress where he made his most extensive public appearance in years. “Soon I’ll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof that on this planet, if one works with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need and that need to be fought for without ever giving up.”

Cuba’s government announced that Castro’s ashes would be interred on Dec. 4 in the eastern city of Santiago that was a birthplace of his revolution. That will follow more than a week of honors, including a nearly nationwide caravan retracing, in reverse, his tour from Santiago to Havana with the triumph of the revolution in 1959.

Reprinted with the permission of the Associated Press.

Bob Buckhorn disappointed that TPP is dead

Donald Trump made it official earlier this week: The Trans-Pacific Partnership is DOA in his upcoming administration.

“On trade, I am going to issue a notification of intent to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potential disaster for our country,” Trump said on Monday in a brief video outlying his first 100 days that was posted on YouTube. Instead, he said, he said he would “negotiate fair bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back”.

The TPP, a 12-country Pacific Rim trade agreement signed in 2015 but not ratified, did not have a lot of support in Congress, at least not while Barack Obama remained in power. It certainly had its supporters in the U.S., including farmers and ranchers. The TPP had promised to slash tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods in large markets such as Japan and Vietnam, as well as eliminate agricultural subsidies that gave competitors in the trade bloc an edge.

Several world leaders say without U.S. participation, the deal is completely dead.

Among those disappointed by the decision is Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who was chair of the TTP task force with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. His unbridled support entitled him to an invitation to a White House State Dinner in August when the Prime Minister of Singapore came to Washington. Singapore was one of the signatories to the pact.

Speaking to FloridaPolitics last week, Buckhorn said he was disappointed that Trump would not commit to the agreement, largely because he says the U.S. can’t retreat from competing in a global environment.

“We have relationships, we have alliances we want to reduce barriers, we want to reduce tariffs we want to engage and produce made in America products all over the globe. That’s good for America, that’s good for American jobs,” he said.

The TPP was opposed by labor group groups in the U.S. and their champions in Congress like Bernie Sanders. But Buckhorn says it’s wrong to think that trade agreements cause the economic dislocation that has so negatively hurt American workers.

“It’s the technology that is changing the way that American workers are working,  and so to hear the demogogery on both sides of the aisle over trade, was disappointing, because I don’t think that’s  reflection of American values and the way that America has competed around the globe,” Buckhorn said. “We need to be the leader, because if we don’t, then other people will, and if certainly in the case about TPP. The void by our absence will befilled by China, and the TPP criteria, whether it was on intellectual capital,whther it was on labor, whether it was on unions, the environment,  will not be nearly to the standard that the TPP would have been. So yeah, for me that’s disappointing and I hope it’s only a temporary condition in America.”

In wake of loss to Donald Trump, Hillsborough County Democrats get surge of requests to join their party

At their first event since being devastated by the results of the presidential election, there was literally not enough room to contain the number of Democrats who showed up at the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee meeting in Ybor City Monday night. A second room adjoining the main boardroom at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County facility was opened to contain the overflow crowd.

“We’ve been inundated since the election,” said Ione Townsend, the chair of the Hillsborough County DEC.

Although officially only 14 people were sworn in as new members of the Executive Committee Monday, there were several dozen more people who were first-time visitors to a DEC meeting. Townsend said those 14 people had already completed applications in advance of the meeting. In addition, she said party officials received a “number” of completed applications on Monday, with other applications distributed to people in the last two weeks who weren’t in attendance at Monday’s meeting. A number of other people left the meeting taking an application form with them.

“There’s a great deal of disappointment in the national election with Hillary’s loss and the election of Trump,” she said about the interest over the past two weeks. “People are saying, ‘maybe I should have been more involved, I need to be involved.’ There were people who said ‘I sat this out and I shouldn’t have’ and, whatever their reasons are, we’re just glad that they want to be engaged.”

Although it wasn’t a perfect night by any stretch for Hillsborough Democrats, the county did vote strongly for Clinton. The voters also voted in support of all the constitutional officers on the ballot (such as Clerk of the Court Pat Frank, Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer and Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez) re-elected, as well as Andrew Warren defeating Mark Ober for state attorney.

Townsend is running for re-election to the party chair position on Dec. 5, and no one is challenging her. She was elected in January, after serving as vice-chair in the previous year.

One factor that certainly has helped the party is the fundraising prowess unleashed by Mark Hanissee, the former Pinellas County DEC chair who lost his bid for re-election there to Susan McGrath two years ago.

Under Hanissee, the Hillsborough Democrats have created two fundraising vehicles — one being the Hillsborough Society, created in 2015 by Alex Sink and Tucker/Hall co-founder Tom Hall. That group was able to raise $40,000 in the past year to help with get-out-the-vote efforts, including slate cards, digital media, phone banking, website upkeep, and social media.

Then there is their Victory Fund. Hannisee said when he was originally hired by the party in the fall of 2014, his goal was to bring in $200,000 by this past election to that fund. In fact, he said, they raised more than $309,000.

During the meeting, Townsend said the party also did a great job in registering voters. On April 30 the Democrats had 305,887 registered in Hillsborough County. They then registered 32,113 between May and Oct. 18, increasing their numbers to over 338,000.

“We actually delivered the vote for Hillary Clinton,” she said to cheers from the audience.

But obviously, Clinton’s loss in Florida was pivotal in the Democratic nominee’s failure to win the state’s 29 electoral votes. After the 2012 presidential election, when Barack Obama won re-election days before the final vote in Florida was counted (he ultimately defeated Mitt Romney here by less than one percentage point), Democrats’ attitude was that while Clinton could afford to lose Florida, Trump could not. Yet that was going by the old Electoral College map, which had states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin going for Clinton. They didn’t, however.

“We share your pain. We share your disappointment,” Townsend told the dozens of new members in the audience. “I encourage you to stay engaged. We can turn out more Democratic voters with more hands for sure.”


Barack Obama mentoring Donald Trump on world leadering

It’s the last thing President Barack Obama ever expected he’d be doing in his final months in office: Coaching Donald Trump on how to be a world leader.

As the president-elect holes up in his skyscraper, Obama is giving Trump policy advice, style tips and gentle nudges to let the fervor of the campaign give way to the sobriety of the Oval Office. And as Obama completes his last world tour, he’s been thrust into the unexpected role of Trump translator to anxious U.S. allies.

Standing next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Obama said Trump would quickly see that a president’s responsibilities can’t be treated casually and that diverse countries can only be governed by “listening and reaching out.”

“It is my hope that that is what will happen,” Obama said. “And I’m going to do everything I can over the next two months to help assure that that happens.”

Though the outgoing president made clear his profound disdain for Trump throughout the campaign, perhaps no one is better positioned than Obama to get him up to speed in a matter of weeks.

It’s unclear, though, how much help Trump wants or will accept from Obama. And no one expects that the executive tutoring will substantially change Trump’s vast differences with Obama, who he called the worst president in U.S. history.

After meeting with Trump following the election, Obama resolved to spend more time helping prepare Trump than he might under different circumstances — say, if Hillary Clinton had been elected, aides said.

Trump, to the surprise of many, seemed game. He said he wanted Obama’s “counsel” and looked forward to “many, many” more meetings.

In the run-up to the election, the White House had planned only perfunctory, refresher-style briefings for Clinton, who is no stranger to the White House and whose transition team had prepared extensively for an expected takeover.

Soon after Trump’s victory, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough directed that his preparatory materials be thickened and his intelligence briefings expanded to include more basic information, according to U.S. officials, who weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and requested anonymity.

Obama and his closest advisers were irritated when it leaked out that Trump, during his White House visit, had displayed a lack of thorough knowledge about key issues while Trump’s aides appeared unfamiliar with the process of staffing up a White House, officials said.

They were concerned if Trump felt insulted or aggrieved, he might pull the plug on accepting Obama’s advice and help. After all, Obama’s aides had been pleasantly surprised when Trump, after their Oval Office chat, had agreed to preserve key elements of the “Obamacare” health law, which he’d pledged during the campaign to repeal.

If Trump has felt patronized by Obama, so far he hasn’t shown it. Asked why Trump’s meeting this week with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was closed to the press, senior transition adviser Kellyanne Conway pointed out that Obama was traveling overseas.

“We are very deferential and respectful of the fact that we already have a president of the United States, Barack Obama,” Conway told reporters. “President Obama is still in office for the next two months, and we won’t be making diplomatic agreements today.”

Though Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence have spoken by phone to more than 30 heads of state since the election, Trump hasn’t been heard from publically, save for one television interview and occasional tweets. From his suite in Trump Tower, he and top aides have been interviewing candidates for the 4,000-odd roles they must fill.

Unsure how Trump as president may shake up foreign relations, world leaders have turned to Obama for information about what to expect. Traveling this week to Greece, Germany and Peru, Obama has tried to reassure U.S. partners that Trump, in their Oval Office meeting, expressed a “full commitment” to NATO.

“I am encouraged by the president-elect’s insistence that NATO is a commitment that does not change,” Obama said in Germany.

During the campaign, Trump said the U.S. didn’t “really need NATO in its current form,” calling it obsolete and threatening not to defend NATO allies unless they pay more into the alliance. Though Trump has since softened those comments, he hasn’t offered the explicit reassurances in public that Obama said he offered in private.

But Obama said he was “cautiously optimistic” that transitioning from candidate to president-in-waiting would force Trump to focus and get serious about “gaining the trust even of those who didn’t support him.”

“That has to reflect itself not only in the things he says, but also how he fills out his administration,” Obama said. “And my hope is that that’s something he is thinking about.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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