Cuba hardliner to be elevated to key White House post on Latin America

The Trump administration is expected to name Mauricio Claver-Carone, one of the most outspoken opponents of the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Cuba, as the new senior director of the National Security Council’s Western Hemisphere Affairs, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the decision.

Claver-Carone will take over the influential White House department for Juan Cruz, who led the department since the early months of the Trump administration and was a key architect of Trump’s policies to pressure the Venezuelan government.

The Miami native, raised in Spain and Orlando, will take over the coordination of Latin American policies among the White House, State Department, Treasury and other agencies.

He is expected to turn up the pressure even more on Venezuela as well as Cuba and Nicaragua, which have become a primary focus of the Trump administration policies on fighting for democracy in the region. He is part of a group of new hires at the National Security Council after John Bolton took over the department.

“If anyone can jump-start a more rigorous, purposeful policy, it’s Mauricio,” said Ambassador Roger Noriega, who served as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under George W. Bush. “He has the political smarts. He has his own political credibility. He has the confidence of the administration. He has his head screwed on right as to the root of important problems in this hemisphere.”

Noriega said Claver-Carone also has the experience working in the Trump bureaucracy since the beginning of the administration and understands how to get policies to move.

The former Treasury department official and current U.S. executive director at the International Monetary Fund is also expected to bring over aspects of his policy work at Treasury, where he pushed economic partnerships with regional allies, energy infrastructure assistance and U.S. investment in the region.

Mauricio Claver Carone (2)
Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates in Washington, D.C., in a 2007 photo. Archive

The posting is likely to win praise from hardline Cuban-Americans and Venezuelan-Americans who Claver-Carone have followed his rise from the George W. Bush administration where he first worked in Treasury to advocate for Cuban democracy and then back to government as a member of Trump’s transition team.

Claver-Carone also has plenty of detractors, particularly in Cuba and the Obama administration, as he was one of the harshest critics of Obama’s efforts to improve U.S. relations with the island nation.

Groups like CubaNow, an organization that pushes for warmer U.S. relations with Havana, have been critical of Claver-Carone’s work for years arguing he defended interests of “politicians who support a failed embargo policy.”

A lawyer, Claver-Carone has taught law at the George Washington and Catholic Universities. He has testified frequently before Congress.

During his time between government stints, he also wrote an influential blog, Capital Hill Cubans, and lead the Washington-based U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC and Cuba Democracy Advocates, a non-profit that promoted democracy and human rights in Cuba.

Franco Ordoñez: 202-383-6155, @francoordonez