Florida Republicans issue litmus test on Cuba, Venezuela policies for Biden nominees

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Michael Wilner, Nora Gámez Torres
·2 min read
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Three Republican lawmakers from Florida are asking the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to reject President-elect Joe Biden’s nominees unless they agree to take a tough stance on Cuba and Venezuela, according to a letter obtained by McClatchy.

Reps. Michael Waltz, Maria Salazar and former Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez drafted the letter to the Senate panel just days before it is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing on Biden’s nominee for secretary of State, Antony Blinken, on Tuesday.

“We respectfully request you reject nominees that do not provide assurance that American foreign policy will be firmly rooted in promoting democracy, economic liberalization, and basic civil liberties, given the human rights abuses in Cuba and Venezuela,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter asks the incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D–N.J., and ranking member James Risch, R–Idaho, to have Blinken and other nominees commit to keeping Cuba on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, consider adding Venezuela, and retain all existing sanctions on both countries, among a long list of requests.

They also asked senators to press nominees to publicly support granting Temporary Protective Status to Venezuelans currently in the United States.

While Democrats will control the Senate at the time of the confirmation vote, the Florida legislators might find a receptive ear in Menendez, a vocal critic of Obama’s effort to normalize Havana relations.

During his four years in office, President Donald Trump steadily escalated pressure on Cuba’s government, which he accused of providing security and intelligence support to Venezuela’s strongman Nicolás Maduro.

Earlier this week, the outgoing administration added Cuba back to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, and on Friday also sanctioned Cuba’s Interior Ministry and its top official, citing their role in human rights violations on the island.

Biden is expected to depart from Trump’s harsher policies towards Cuba and promised to reverse restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba that he said hurt the Cuban people.

But a full restoration of relations with Havana will likely face push back from South Florida voters, as many Cuban Americans and Hispanics, in general, supported Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” against the Cuba and Venezuela regimes.

In her first week in Congress, Salazar, a former Spanish media journalist and television host, filed legislation that would prevent the Biden administration from delisting Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism unless the Cuban government release all political prisoners and commit to free and fair elections. The Helms-Burton Act, signed in 1996, sets similar conditions for lifting the U.S. embargo against the Caribbean island.

The bill has eight co-sponsors so far, mostly Cuban American members in the House, including Gimenez and Florida Republican Mario Díaz-Balart.