AP: Cuban-American lawmakers make themselves heard again in Washington

By Gisela Salmon

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Washington, D.C., February 13, 2017 | comments
"Everything is going to be very different."
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Cuban-American lawmakers from Florida helped shape U.S. relations with the island for years until they found themselves on the outside during a historic thaw in relations.

But they could be getting the upper hand on Cuba policy again under President Donald Trump with a possible return to an earlier, more hard-line U.S. stance toward relations with Cuba's government.

"We have had more conversations with high-level Trump officials than we had in eight years of the Obama administration," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, one of a handful of Republican members of Congress from Florida who long had an outsized role on U.S. foreign policy related to Cuba.

What Diaz-Balart and other Cuban-American lawmakers hope is that their renewed access to the U.S. government under Trump's leadership will help them reverse the steps taken by President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro to normalize relations between the two countries.

"Everything is going to be very different," predicted Rep. Carlos Curbelo, another Miami-area Republican who said he felt shut out under Obama.

The congressional delegation from South Florida, home to the largest number of Cuban-Americans in the nation, was long able to help craft U.S. policy toward the island. They had hoped to continue isolating the Castro government and both Democrat and Republican politicians went along, at least in part.


Diaz-Balart and other Cuban-American lawmakers want U.S. policy to return to where things were before December 2014, citing what he says is the Castro government's "brutal oppression." Curbelo agrees about the return to earlier policies but does not oppose the easing of restrictions on travel that allow Cuban-Americans to more easily visit family back home.


Diaz-Balart and Curbelo said the meetings they and others have had with officials from the new administration, as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearings, have given them hope that Obama's executive orders restoring relations with Cuba would be reversed. "Without a doubt, the days of those orders are numbered," Diaz-Balart said.

Even though Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo did not endorse Trump, some believe they, like Diaz-Balart and Curbelo, will have significant influence on the new administration.


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