The Biden administration is relying on an adviser who has pushed to lift critical sanctions against the communist regime in Cuba, sparking outcry from lawmakers and experts.
President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team includes a former Pentagon appointee from the Obama administration who was a leading advocate for engaging and normalizing relations with Cuba. Florida International University professor Frank Mora served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere from 2009 to 2013 and supported easing long-standing sanctions against Cuba. Mora is now one of 23 volunteer members of Biden's agency review board for the Department of Defense.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) blasted the decision to include Mora on Biden’s transition staff.
"Personnel is policy, and no U.S. administration should ever return to a policy of appeasement with Raúl Castro and his crony, Miguel Díaz-Canel," Rubio told the Washington Free Beacon. "America should always support the Cuban people while holding their oppressors accountable."
Mora has spoken repeatedly about the potential benefits of ending the trade embargo with Cuba and endorsed the Obama administration's decision to remove Cuba from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2015. "This may be a necessary, but certainly not a sufficient, step towards normalizing economic relations with Cuba," Mora told C-SPAN following Cuba's removal from the list.
Although Cuba remains off the list of terrorism sponsors, as of 2019 Cuba has reportedly harbored members of the Colombian terrorist group FARC, sponsored Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro’s narco-terrorist regime, and continues to protect American terrorists who have fled the United States for Cuba.
Neither the Biden transition team nor Mora responded to requests for comment.
Ryan Berg, an American Enterprise Institute research fellow specializing in Latin American foreign policy issues, told the Free Beacon Biden's selection of Mora for the transition team could lay the groundwork for normalized relations with the communist state.
"He’s a believer of a certain thawing of relations with the island," Berg said. "Biden’s general impulse on a lot of foreign policy questions is to revert back to the 2016 status quo ante. While there might be some things to like about that ... the danger is of course that the world has moved on a lot from 2016."
Mora has suggested that loosening restrictions on Cuba could win support for Democrats in Florida.
"My university did a poll ... and it showed a majority of Cuban Americans supporting ... normalizing relations," Maro said on C-SPAN. "The younger Cuban Americans in and outside of South Florida overwhelmingly support the normalization of relations with Cuba."
In the November elections, the Trump-Pence ticket won around 55 percent of the Cuban-American vote in Florida, buoying GOP success in the Sunshine State. According to one study, 76 percent of recent arrivals from Cuba in South Florida who register to vote identify as Republicans.
Berg said Cuban Americans support officeholders who play hardball with Cuba, and Biden's embrace of sanctions relief could alienate Florida voters in future elections.
"Younger Cuban Americans, while not as starkly committed to the GOP, are still favoring those kinds of policies that are tough on the island and confronting socialism head-on," Berg said. "The Democrats lost Florida, and I think we can say that the Latino vote was pretty decisive there."