Cuba Politics

*Obama’s staff and their record on US Cuba policy - updated December 2

Posted November 06, 2008 by publisher in Cuba Politics.


Rob Sequin | Havana Journal

I will update this article as new people are announced as part of President Elect Obama’s staff and related leadership positions. I have made this article “sticky” which means that it will stay as the top story until I decide to “unstick” it from the top spot. I will update the date in the title when I add a new person.

I will do my best to find their voting records and any public comments they have made in the past regarding Cuba so we can all discover how these new people think and vote with regards to Cuba policy. I would expect to see most of them voting against the Embargo since they are Democrats but it’s good to see it in writing in one place. So, check back after you hear more announcements from the Obama Administration.

So far, I could not find any votes by President Elect Obama regarding Cuba policy. Please leave a comment below if you have a link to a vote by him on Cuba policy.

1. Rahm Emanuel - Chief of Staff

Voted YES along with Congressmen Jeff Flake and William Delahunt on H AMDT 270: Bans Use of Funds to Enforce Cuba Regulations Amendment


As a side story: two Republicans, Roy Blunt and Adam Putnam of Florida are leaving their leadership positions so I thought I’d look into their voting records.

They both voted NO on H AMDT 270: Bans Use of Funds to Enforce Cuba Regulations Amendment and Bill HR 2590 ; vote number 2001-270 on Jul 25, 2001

Video clip of Barack Obama speech regarding Cuban American travel to Cuba.

2. Tom Dashcle to be Health Secretary - UPDATE 11/19

Obama Picks Daschle as health secretary. Here are a couple articles regarding Daschle’s trip to Cuba in 1999. He is in favor of lifting the trade sanctions.

From the BBC in 1999 - Two of the most senior US politicians to visit Cuba in recent years have said they will push for a move to ease economic sanctions and allow the communist-ruled island to buy US food and medicines. Senator Tom Daschle, the leader of the Democrats in the US Senate, said on returning to Washington that he would work to lift the embargo on shipments of food and medicine.

and from the LA Times in 1999 - The Senate voted, 70-28, last month to lift restrictions on sales of food and medicine to Cuba. After the vote, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., met in Havana for seven hours with Cuban President Fidel Castro, then returned to Washington to call on the House to pass similar legislation. Daschle is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Cuba in decades.

3. Bill Richardson to be Secretary of Commerce - UPDATE 11/23

Former Democratic Presidential candidate and current Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson has been named Secretary of Commerce replacing Carlos Gutierrez. Bill Richardson is on record in favor of easing Cuba travel restrictions and has met with Fidel Castro in Cuba. He replaces the extremely pro-Embargo Gutierrez.

4. Eric Holder for Attorney General and Greg Craig for White House counsel - UPDATE 11/23

From the Miami Herald article:

“Two veterans of the Elián González saga are expected to be named to top posts in Democrat Barack Obama’s administration, infuriating some Cuban-American Republicans who haven’t forgotten the 6-year-old boy seized in Miami and sent back to the communist regime. The Associated Press is reporting that Obama’s top choice for U.S. attorney general is Eric Holder, who served as deputy attorney general during the 2000 raid in Miami. Greg Craig, who represented González’s father in the custody battle, is expected to be named White House counsel.”


Member Comments

On November 07, 2008, DANIEL BRUNO wrote:

Obama filled out a questionnaire upon winning his Senate seat in 2005.  When asked about the embargo he answered that he was opposed to it.  smile

On November 07, 2008, John McAuliff wrote:

Most Senate votes on Cuba took place before Obama was elected. 


Voting in favor of an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill offered by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to facilitate family travel to Cuba in humanitarian circumstances:
Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Hagel, Obama

Signed Senate letter supporting religious travel

Twice voted to cut off TV Marti funding

Obama has pledged unrestricted travel for Cuban Americans but 84% of his supporters want to end all travel restrictions as do 68% of all Americans.

Hard to imagine he will restore only travel which discriminates by ethnicity and national origin.

On November 07, 2008, Mako wrote:

Tne embargo is just about over . With Obama as prsident and a Democratic controlled congress., look for the the gradual ending of the embargo in 2009

On November 07, 2008, John McAuliff wrote:

It will only be over if people who worked for Obama make it known to his transition team and appointees that they expect the new President to

1)  use his executive authority to immediately grant general licenses for all twelve categories of non-tourist travel codified by Congress in 2000 and will not accept discrimination based on ethnicity, national origin or interest group local politics

2)  terminate the special status of Travel Service Providers so all agents can book flights and accommodations

3)  endorse Congressional restoration of the Constitutional right to travel by ending all restrictions, including commercial tourism

On November 08, 2008, publisher wrote:

Great posts. Thanks for the background on President Elect Obama’s history regarding the Embargo.

I signed up for email alerts from his new site so I will post names of people coming into his Administration and will research their background as it relates to the Embargo.

I would imagine by default his Administration will have anti-Embargo (dare I say pro-free travel) people.

On November 08, 2008, bernie wrote:

Obama should cut off the head of the US treasury OFAC, by eliminating all funding to it?????  These are the guys who go after the freedom loving souls who travel to Cuba, and intimidate them with large fines and prison sentences????

On November 08, 2008, publisher wrote:

Although I would word that a bit differently, this has been tried but either vetoed or killed by procedure.

I do expect this type of attack on the Embargo in Spring 2009 assuming that the economy and wars don’t take up too much time.

On November 08, 2008, Erick Mendez wrote:

It’s disappointing to see people not respond to my forum post of Rahm Emmanuel’s belief in compulsory military service.  The fact that Castro and his state support this same method of enlisting Cubans forcefully does not frighten Cuban Americans here at home.  Yet it angers me.  We know Cuba has been a country by rule of force, rather than by law.  Knowing a Democratic Congress is in power, I won’t be surprised to see conscription without there ever being a real interest in national security.

On November 08, 2008, Mako wrote:

Forget about politics for the moment. Hurricane Paloma is about to hit Cuba with sustained winds of 145 mph and gusts to 175 mph . These poor people don’t deserve the misery this hurricane season has put them through.
We should all do want we can to help these folks. Santa Cruz to north of Camaguey is about to be flattened .  They need all the help they can get . If any of you have ben through a category 4 hurricane , you will fully understand what I am saying

On November 09, 2008, publisher wrote:

Maybe Obama can reach out with humanitarian aid and do some backroom deal with Raul.

Don’t forget though George Bush is still President for more than two months so you can forget about any rational approach or serious offer of humanitarian aid to Cuba.

On November 09, 2008, publisher wrote:

Emanuel will no longer be a Representative and will not be in a position to dictate policy. Even if he has an influence this type of stuff is WAY down the list of things to do.

The Liberals and Socialists in the Democratic party will have little time for a far left wing agenda and will not be able to spend like crazy since there is no money left for wacky projects.

This economic crisis is a huge slap in the face for ALL politicians and extremists so I expect President Obama and Congress to do the right thing for at least 2009 and probably 2010 too.

On November 09, 2008, Erick Mendez wrote:

Good point on Emanuel, but foreign aid should neither be part of our foreign policy, nor our fiscal policy.

On November 12, 2008, edward wrote:

I have read many times in on the Havana Journal of the possibility that the Castro government actually want the emabargo to stay in place..under some half baked idea that it keeps them in power. These comments do nothing to further any useful dialogue and only stoke the fires of the conspiracy theorists who seem to feed off creating a whole lot of smoke and mirrors, presumably to justify their opinions.

Lets get real, the words below are from Fidel himself who again refers to the ‘blockade’ during a piece written about ‘Hurricana Paloma’.

“And, if the chief of the empire and leading promoter of the genocidal blockade on our country were to offer again his pious assistance, he would again receive a dignified response: it would certainly be rejected. Our people demand that the blockade is lifted, especially now that humanity has unanimously called for it amidst a financial crisis which is pounding on every developed and developing nation on the Earth.

There are still some who dream of submitting Cuba using the criminal blockade as an instrument of the U.S. foreign policy against our homeland. If that country made the same mistake again it could spend another century implementing that useless policy against Cuba; that is, if the empire could last that long. ”

On November 12, 2008, publisher wrote:

Fidel has used the Embargo as a crutch for decades to convince his people that Cuba’s problems are not his fault but the fault of the Embargo.

“Lets get real, the words below are from Fidel himself who again refers to the ‘blockade’ during a piece written about ‘Hurricana Paloma’. “

... and Fidel never lies?

Anyway, I don’t want this to turn into an Embargo article. It is about incoming Obama staff.

On November 13, 2008, Cubaking wrote:

Rob, The only red flag I have seen was the inclusion of Halbrooke’s name. I seem to remember some connection with him and Bolton/ Armitage/ Negroponte/ Reich etal. regarding being a Cuba hawk, but maybe I am wroing. Just about anyone from the last 45 years involved with Latin American affairs ( Noteable exception is Wayne Smith) would be dangerous.. they are all tied to CIA, NSA or the ugly underbelly of American politics….. it is like a cancer left over from The United Fruit Company.

    Still, I dare to hope though..

On November 19, 2008, publisher wrote:

New information posted about Obama picking Daschle for health secretary with links about his visit to Cuba in 1999. He is in favor of lifting trade sanctions.

So far so good with Obama’s picks but if he picks Hillary as Secretary of State she could put the brakes on everything.

I think Bill Clinton has too much baggage for her to get the job. He will not be able to hire himself out to the highest bidder for his speaking engagements. I would think that would be a conflict of interest and/or a matter of state security.

I am against Hillary for any job in the Obama Administration. She will drag him down, guaranteed.

On November 19, 2008, manfredz wrote:

In this time of crisis, I think Obama needs people from all groups behind him including Hillary supporters.  Best way to do this is to offer her (and McCain too ?) high profile jobs. Yes it has its risks, but the US is in a big time crisis that will probably get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

On November 20, 2008, publisher wrote:

More positive news coming out of the Obama transition team:

“Two veterans of the Elián González saga are expected to be named to top posts in Democrat Barack Obama’s administration, infuriating some Cuban-American Republicans who haven’t forgotten the 6-year-old boy seized in Miami and sent back to the communist regime.”

The Associated Press is reporting that Obama’s top choice for U.S. attorney general is Eric Holder, who served as deputy attorney general during the 2000 raid in Miami. Greg Craig, who represented González’s father in the custody battle, is expected to be named White House counsel.”


‘‘This is a clear sign that the Obama administration is diametrically opposed to the concerns and views of the Cuban-American community,’’ said state Rep. David Rivera of Miami, who helped organize the June protest. ``It is a blatant and disrespectful slap in the face.’‘


I say that’s a good thing. It’s about time Americans get their freedom of travel rights back from the tiny minority of old Cuban American exiles in Miami who cling to their old failed Plan A plan to get rid of Fidel and Raul Castro. Hasn’t worked for 47 years and it ain’t gonna work next year either folks.

and the whining from Cuban Americans continues about how the Cuban Americans are right and everybody else is wrong. Right.

On November 23, 2008, publisher wrote:

Major update today for those of you following Obama’s picks for key Washington positions.

On November 25, 2008, abh wrote:

Let’s hope Richardson will be in our corner on this one.

On December 01, 2008, publisher wrote:

Obama announces Clinton, Gates for Cabinet so it’s a done deal with Hillary Clinton which I’m not too happy about but maybe he sees something in her that will work to our benefit.

I think she and/or Bill Clinton will do something to embarrass the job and that she won’t finish four years let along eight years.

She is pro-Embargo but that position might just be because she wants the old Cuban exile support.

On December 02, 2008, publisher wrote:

I just posted this article about President Obama lifting the Cuban Embargo that makes many points on how easy it will be for him to substantially alter the Embargo on Cuba.

It will also be a great foreign policy victory for him in just about every country around the world.

Also, since most Americans support easing the Embargo, this would also be a great victory for him with Americans.

On December 02, 2008, publisher wrote:

This doesn’t really qualify as an addition to President Obama’s anti-Embargo staff appointments but it works towards the same goal… pro-Embargo Senator Martinez will not run for re-election.

So this makes him a lame duck. So, now President Bush will be gone. Secretary Gutierrez will be gone. That leaves those three dummies in the House from Miami but I imagine they be insignificant to most all proceedings in the new House so they’ll just have to shut their mouth and watch the Embargo (and funding to Radio Marti, TV Marti and millions of other wasted funds) slip away.

I can hear the Embargo gasping for air. It’s terminally ill now grin

It lived a long life, too long… 47 years old.

Good bye Embargo. Most people never liked you and I doubt many people will go to your funeral.

On December 03, 2008, Erick Mendez wrote:

It will certainly interisting to see the anti-capitalistic/Cold War artifact embargo leave us, hopefully soon.  Obama has been the only to talk about it, yet I am tired of talking.  However, please end the speculation until the we actually see it lifted.  In addition, the US should end the Torrecelli Act first.

On December 03, 2008, Luis wrote:

I just saw a report in today’s El Nuevo Herald which states that 55% of Cuban-Americans in the Miami area support ending the embargo. The percentage is even higher among Cuban-Americans between 18 and 44: 65%. Most of the Cubans in favor of ending the embargo indentified themselves as Republicans who did not vote for Obama.  This poll was conducted by FIU and the Brookings Institution.

On December 03, 2008, Erick Mendez wrote:

I did not vote for neither Obama nor McCain, and I am a registered Democrat.  I hate the embargo.  Where do I fall in the poll findings? Lol

On December 03, 2008, Cubaking wrote:

(CNN) — A Florida congresswoman – convinced she was being prank-called by a Barack Obama sound-alike – hung up on the actual president-elect Wednesday.

Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was told by an aide that Obama wanted to speak with her. According to a statement released by her office, the Republican congresswoman cut off the caller, telling him she thought “this is a joke from one of the South Florida radio stations known for these pranks.” She then hung up.

Obama’s future White House chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel – a fellow congressman – then called her to let her know she’d actually been speaking with the future commander-in-chief. Ros-Lehtinen, convinced the call was another hoax, hung up on him, too.

Finally, an aide told Ros-Lehtinen she had an urgent call from Chairman Howard Berman, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Still suspicious, Ros-Lehtinen urged the California Democrat to recount a story only both of them would know.

Berman passed the test — and told her she had, in fact, hung up on President-elect Obama.

When an amused Obama called again, Ros-Lehtinen he was either “very gracious” to reach across the aisle by contacting her, or “had run out of folks to call, if you are truly calling me.” Otherwise, she said, Saturday Night Live “could use a good Obama impersonator like you.” The Obama transition team declined comment on the incident.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton also spoke with Ros-Lehtinen by phone, relatively uneventfully.

hahahaha and Mel Martinez gone as well…. ROFLMAO…..

On December 03, 2008, publisher wrote:

She is such an idiot.

I really hope Obama is not calling her for her opinion on Cuba but why is he calling her expect to talk about Cuba?

VERY interesting.

On December 03, 2008, Cubaking wrote:

Nah he was just calling to say she really would have to start sending cash to la isla now.. instead of just lipservicing that she does…...

On December 04, 2008, Curt wrote:

One of the reasons I voted for Obama was for CHANGE in the Cuba policy. Why the %&#! is he calling that puta con chocha susia Illeana I don’t know. If he caves in to her beliefs I will be very disappointed in Obama.

On December 04, 2008, Erick Mendez wrote:

Seriously, I know what many think. It makes us wonder if Obama is going to call the Diaz-Balart family, who knows? I am sure many of Rafaels’ children are readily avoiding the call.  They are, perhaps, frustrated with Castro, especially for what Castro has done to their father and family.

On December 04, 2008, publisher wrote:

Agree completely. Maybe it’s just a political thing.

Listen to all points of view, thank them for their time then continue on with the plan.

That way maybe she will respect him for listening.

By doing this he will probably learn more about who she really is and how screwed up her beliefs are regarding Cuba and US policy.

Since she already looks stupid, I think he already has a good read on her.

On December 04, 2008, Cubana wrote:

This is what has had to say on a possible Obama nominee:

Becerra butted heads on Cuba
By Ian Swanson
Posted: 12/04/08 10:50 AM [ET] 
President-elect Obama’s expected choice as trade representative voted to end the trade embargo with Cuba and butted heads with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus after a meeting more than a decade ago with Fidel Castro.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who has reportedly been offered the job of U.S. trade representative, clashed with Cuban-American members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 1997, when he was chairman of the group.

Florida GOP Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart resigned from the caucus at time, saying they were “personally insulted” by Becerra’s four-day trip to Cuba. Both members said they were upset that Becerra visited the nation while campaigning to head the CHC, which was then bipartisan. The CHC now only includes Democrats.

Becerra’s office responded to the criticism by saying that, during the Cuba visit, the lawmaker talked to people with different perspectives, including Castro and dissidents to the regime.

Neither the Obama transition team nor Becerra’s office has confirmed that the lawmaker has been offered the trade post. His office did not respond to a request for comment on the decade-old flap.

Becerra has repeatedly voted in favor of softening the trade embargo, most recently in 2007, when he supported an amendment backed by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) to make it easier to ship farm goods to Cuba.

In the 109th Congress, Becerra voted in favor of a separate amendment by Rangel that would have prohibited funding for implementing the trade embargo with Cuba.

Still, Becerra would not have a great influence in setting Cuban trade policy even if he becomes the U.S. trade representative. Policy experts on both sides of the debate agreed that the power players on Cuba in the administration would be at the White House and in the State Department.

“USTR is the last agency where Cuba policy is made,” said Jake Colvin, vice president of the National Foreign Trade Council, which supports lifting the embargo. Colvin’s group will release a report on Thursday making the case for a new policy on Cuba.

A leading supporter of the embargo agreed with Colvin, adding that from his perspective it would be good to see Becerra leave a leadership position in the House for USTR. Becerra recently was elected vice chairman of the Democratic caucus.

“I think the best thing that could happen is for him to become USTR and leave Congress,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, which has lobbied intensely to preserve a tough embargo. “USTR has zero domain over Cuba policy.”

On December 04, 2008, Erick Mendez wrote:

Haha, wow there you go I was right about Diaz-Balart opposing the open talks.  Do not worry my fellow Cubans. there are several Cuban Democrats, unless I am mistaken. We sincerely need new Cuban representatives, who have not been screwed by Castro. Our only are too biased. I am interested to know if they favor Batista over Castro. To me their only difference is ancestry and economic policy.

On December 05, 2008, publisher wrote:

If Xavier Becerra is chosen as US trade rep then that is one more person in favor of lifting the US Embargo.

On January 22, 2009, Erik Morales wrote:

Any possibility of Obama’s administration simply quietly not enforcing the embargo against tourists and cigar-smokers? Something along the lines of directing OFAC and US Customs to direct resources elsewhere, thus basically allowing people to get away with travel to Cuba with only a metaphoric slap on the wrist (i.e. simply being hassled/lectured by customs and having cigars taken away but not actually being fined/screwed by OFAC)? In this economy, it would be laughable to spend government resources (i.e. our/taxpayers’ hard-earned money) on screwing over people who travel to Cuba for leisure or who buy cigars instead of using those resources to catch cocaine smugglers. Actually, I think it’s idiotic that the government hasn’t legalized narcotics, but that’s a different story.