“The Castro regime does a lot of publicity for miracle cures that don’t work and don’t help the Cuban people,” she said. “It certainly will be helpful to the regime in terms of publicity.”
Ros-Lehtinen said she saw a copy of the letters — one to Lew, the other to members of Congress — and she expressed concern that neither mentioned Healiance or its parent company, Digen Pharmaceuticals, by name. Delahunt did not return calls or an email for comment.
Ros-Lehtinen said this is the first time she can remember a Cuban-American member of Congress “supporting something that will be helpful to the regime.”
Congress has seven Cuban-American members. Garcia, who once headed the hard-line Cuban American National Foundation, is the only one who appears to support the move.
The effort is being run out of the office of Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. A handful of Democrats — some of them major critics of U.S. Latin America policy — have signed on, including Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., who joined Delahunt as a member of a U.S. delegation that attended the funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in March.
The letter was shared with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, head of the Democratic National Committee, but she declined to sign it, an aide said.
Wasserman Schultz’s position is a sign of how “there was no daylight, no distance between us when it came to Cuba in the South Florida delegation,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami.
“We’re dealing with a state sponsor of terrorism that, at this time, is holding an American hostage,” Diaz-Balart said, referring to imprisoned contractor Alan Gross. “This is a state sponsor of terror that was just caught shipping arms to another state sponsor of terror, North Korea. This is a state sponsor of terror that has an active espionage network.”
Diaz-Balart’s brother, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, twice fought similar efforts to bring Cuban-U.S. pharmaceutical partnerships to the United States. At least two were approved under President George W. Bush.
Garcia said a 2009 comment from Diaz-Balart’s chief of staff indicated the former Republican congressman did not oppose the research, but Diaz-Balart said the comment was misconstrued.
It has been tougher holding a hard line on Cuba in the era of President Barack Obama, who loosened Cuba travel and remittance policies.
It did not appear to hurt Obama’s election chances, either, with Florida exit polls indicating he either narrowly lost or even won Florida’s Cuban-American vote, once a reliable Republican bloc.
The island’s current dictator, Raúl Castro, has loosened travel restrictions, too. Coupled with generous U.S. policies for Cuban immigrants, more have come to the United States in recent years.
The influx of new Cuban-American arrivals has led to some tensions between those who identify themselves as political exiles and newcomers who are more like economic immigrants.
The growing numbers of non-Cuban Hispanics are also changing the complexion of South Florida and its politics.
Garcia’s congressional district, which stretches from suburban Miami-Dade to Key West, is about 65 percent Hispanic and majority Cuban-American. One of Garcia’s Republican opponents, Carlos Curbelo, has made Cuba policy a key issue in the race.
“Let the people who want to talk politics go and talk politics,” Garcia said. “This is about a treatment that’s designed to help Americans. And these are just tests. If it’s a hoax, then someone’s out a lot of money. But if the treatment works, why wouldn’t we do this?”