The Center for a Free Cuba sent a letter of gratitude to President Donald Trump Wednesday for his decision to come to Miami and said it was pleased that he would soon begin the “dismantling of Barack Obama’s concessions to the Castro regime.”
The president is scheduled to announce his new Cuba policy in Miami on Friday. The exact direction that policy will take is unclear but it is expected to roll back some Obama-era executive orders that made it easier to travel to the island and do business with Cuba.
“We welcome the visit of the president to Miami because we know this is a first step,” Frank Calzon, the center’s executive director, said during a news conference in the courtyard of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies. In response to reports that the president may not announce a complete reversal of Obama policies, Calzon said, “Nothing is done in a day.”
Members of the media outnumbered the audience at the event, but more than 100 Cuban Americans — including a number of former political prisoners, human rights activists, former diplomats and others signed the letter.
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During the president’s time in Miami, the signatories urged him to meet with the family of Mario de la Peña. who was aboard one of two Brothers to the Rescue planes shot down on Feb. 24, 1996 by the Cuban Air Force as the plane approached the island. The pilots volunteered their time to search for Cuban rafters.
“It would be a beautiful gesture on the part of the president to embrace that family and show support,” said Eduardo Zayas Bazan, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion and a professor emeritus at East Tennessee State University.
The message that the center, an organization that works for a democratic transition and defends human rights in Cuba, wants to get across is that “Cuba is a lot more than a tourism destination,” said Calzon. “Cuba is 11 million souls 90 miles from the United States who are denied the most basic and elemental human rights.”
Calzon said current policy is the result of executive orders issued by Obama and secret negotiations with the Cuban government instead of strict adherence to the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (also known as Helms-Burton).
The pieces of legislation prevent the Castro government from benefiting financially from economic activity with the United States and set conditions, including a democratic transition in Cuba, before the embargo can be lifted.
“American policy should be based on laws,” said Calzon.
Among the signatories to the letter was Cuban dissident leader Antonio Rodiles, who arrived from Cuba on Tuesday. He said the United States needs a new Cuba policy that keeps in mind the Cuban people.
“We need a new policy to pressure the regime so it will change,” Rodiles said. Pro-engagement groups in the United States, however, say that increasing pressure at this time when Cuban leader Raúl Castro says he plans to relinquish the presidency to a successor in 2018 could encourage Cuban hardliners and further crackdowns.
Asked if he thought the majority of Cubans on the island supported the embargo, Rodiles responded: “Most of the Cuban people want freedom. I know that people want pressure over the regime.” But he said some Cubans may not understand the embargo is a tool to apply that pressure.
Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi