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    Charlie Crist – Cuba embargo, travel ban are ‘definition of insanity’

    Posted on Friday, 05.09.14

    Charlie Crist: Cuba embargo, travel ban are ‘definition of insanity’
    BY ADAM C. SMITH AND MARC CAPUTO
    HERALD/TIMES STAFF WRITERS

    ST. PETERSBURG — Charlie Crist minces no words describing the
    government of Cuba: “It’s oppressive. It’s anti-free-press. It’s
    totalitarian. It’s wrong.”

    But the likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee wants to visit Florida’s
    communist neighbor this summer and says it’s past time to lift the
    United States’ 53-year-old Cuba trade embargo.

    “The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and
    over again and expect a different result. This policy has not worked,”
    Crist told the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald in an interview Friday,
    explaining for the first time the thinking behind his plans.

    The controversial trip — panned by Republican Gov. Rick Scott as a
    public relations coup for the Castro regime — would be a first for such
    a high-profile Florida candidate, and it may not happen at all if the
    State Department or Cuban government reject the idea. The former
    Republican governor said he is optimistic after submitting his request
    to the State Department two weeks ago.

    He said he’d like to visit the island with a delegation of business,
    academic and economic development officials. He wants to meet with as
    many “regular” citizens as possible to discuss infrastructure needs and
    the embargo.

    Crist, 57, said he is not interested in meeting with government
    officials there, but would like to talk with political prisoners,
    including American Alan Gross, the U.S. government contractor imprisoned
    for allegedly attempting to undermine the communist government. Crist
    acknowledged, however, that the Cuban government would largely control
    his itinerary.

    Crist said he drew a measure of inspiration from the experience of Palm
    Beach sugar baron Alfonso “Alfy” Fanjul, a Cuban exile and longtime
    leader of the anti-Castro movement who lately has talked of normalizing
    relations and ultimately expanding business interests into Cuba. A
    spokesman for the Fanjuls said they don’t support Crist’s campaign.

    Some of it is also personal, Crist said, noting that his family
    immigrated to America from Cyprus and that he can’t visit his
    grandfather’s village there because it is in Turkish-occupied northern
    Cyprus and off limits to people of Greek descent.

    “There is an emotional attachment,” Crist said. “I can, to some degree,
    have great empathy for what some of our Cuban Floridians are feeling.
    And I’ve talked to a lot of them in South Florida.”

    Late last year, during a three-day visit to Miami, Crist said he spoke
    with about two dozen Cuban Americans he met in the course of campaigning
    and traveling around the city. He asked them about the embargo.

    “Twenty-four of the 25 told me, face to face, that they felt we should
    get rid of it,” Crist said.

    Public opinion polls show a majority of Floridians, including Cuban
    Americans, support normalized relations with Cuba. But critics say Crist
    is naive if he thinks visiting the communist country will accomplish
    anything besides allowing Cuban leaders to exploit him for propaganda
    purposes.

    “It’s foolish he’s going there. All he’s going to do is support the
    Castro regime,” Scott said earlier this week, while in Miami. “Look at
    how many people in this city were thrown in prison by Castro. . . . He
    is helping Venezuela become Cuba — Castro is doing that. Charlie Crist
    going there is going to help them.”

    Crist said he has no intention of being used as a Castro regime puppet,
    but that a new approach to Cuba could help the Cuban people as well as
    the economy in Florida.

    “If you were to lift the embargo and be able to have trade with the
    Cuban people, then the kinds of economic impact that would have —
    particularly on a state like Florida, which is the closest to it,” he
    said. “If there is going to be some infrastructure change, some housing
    modifications and improvements, the natural launching pad for all of
    that in Cuba is Florida.”

    As a Republican candidate for governor in 2006, Crist used to talk the
    same way as Scott does now and he even attacked Democrat Jim Davis for
    having visited Cuba in 2003.

    “As a Republican, it is expected and anticipated you’ll be for the
    embargo,” Crist explained. “And of course, back in the day I was trying
    to be a good team player and being a round peg trying to fit into a
    square hole, as awkward as that was for me many times.”

    Crist said he did support the Obama administration’s decision to keep
    Cuba designated as a state-terror sponsor. But, he said that when it
    comes to trade and travel, he draws a distinction between Cuba and other
    terrorist nations like Syria, North Korea or Iran.

    Crist was careful to repeat that he doesn’t want to help the Castro
    government, but instead learn first-hand what Cuba is like.

    But whether it was a 2012 visit by Pope Benedict XVI or the 2013 trip by
    pop stars Jay-Z and Beyoncé, critics of the Castro regime say
    high-profile visitors ultimately help the government in Havana more than
    the people in the streets.

    Before Benedict’s visit, for instance, Cuban officials cracked down on
    protesters and, during the pope’s visit, Vatican officials told
    reporters that his ability to meet with dissidents and protesters was
    limited by the government. But President Raúl Castro got a photo op with
    the church leader.

    Asked how he would fare better than the pope, Crist invoked the recent
    visits of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and former Democratic Gov.
    and Sen. Bob Graham.

    “There are examples of fellow Floridians who have been able to make the
    trip to Cuba,” Crist said. “And it’s increasing by the day. It’s
    amazing, really.

    “And if you’re conscious of it, aware of it, then I think you can
    probably structure a visit in such a way that you don’t get utilized
    inappropriately and wrongfully appear to be embracing the current
    regime, which of course is exactly what I would not want to do.”

    Source: “ST. PETERSBURG: Charlie Crist: Cuba embargo, travel ban are
    ‘definition of insanity’ – Florida – MiamiHerald.com” –
    http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/05/09/4108106/charlie-crist-cuba-embargo-travel.html#storylink=misearch