Rep. Charlie Crist (D., Fla.) went on a secret trip to Cuba last month to meet with officials there as tensions between the United States and Cuba rose over Venezuela's crisis.
Records from the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics showed the trip lasted from April 25 to April 27, and Crist's office did not announce it, the Tampa Bay Times reports. The trip was sponsored by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, an organization that claims to promote "a U.S. policy toward Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba's sovereignty."
Crist said his visit was about "advancements in US-Cuba policy and relations made during the Obama Administration, and the impact of the Trump Administration’s change in course." The Times notes that Crist supported easing travel and business restrictions while Obama was in office.
"My concern is for the Cuban people and the long term security interests of the United States. As we disengage and tighten sanctions, Russia and China will enter the void," Crist said. "For a country 90 miles off Florida's coast, that's not a positive development, and the Cuban people caught in the crossfire will either flee or suffer."
Crist's visit came as the U.S.-Cuban relationship became increasingly strained amid the crisis in Venezuela. Cuba supports Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, and national security adviser John Bolton has said Cuba has more than 20,000 troops protecting Maduro. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla denied the claim on the day Crist arrived, calling Bolton a "pathological liar."
Crist has called for Maduro to step down. The Florida congressman and Rodriguez Parilla appeared together in a photograph published by the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas has criticized the Trump administration's policy in Cuba and Venezuela. Emily Mendrala, the organization's executive director, called the administration's approach toward Cuba "mean-spirited" and said Trump's attempts to "exploit events in Venezuela to settle Cold War scores with Cuba is a distraction from real needs in Venezuela."