A Miami-based group opposed to the Castro government praised President Trump's appointment of a new director of the U.S.-taxpayer-funded broadcasting operation directed at the Cuban people but wants the administration to impose additional restrictions on Havana.
Inspire America Foundation, whose advisory board contains several former U.S. ambassadors and prominent Cuban American scholars and executives, sent Trump a letter late last week on the one-year anniversary of his announced reversal of President Obama's détente with Cuba.
The group specifically mentioned the appointment earlier this month of Tomas Regalado as the director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which oversees the Radio and TV Marti stations that broadcast news and other programs to Cuba.
Inspire America Foundation in March ran ads asking Florida residents to call the White House to urge Trump to name a new director.
Regalado, a veteran journalist who served as mayor of the city of Miami from 2009 to 2017, had the strong backing of Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) for the post.
As the new director of the OCB, Regalado pledged to increase the penetration of the stations' signals on the island and modernize the radio programming.
"Under his leadership, we are convinced that this vital agency will finally fulfill the role that President Reagan envisioned for it," wrote Marcell Felipe, who chairs the group's advisory board. "The technology and ingenuity to allow Radio and TV Marti to reach the Cuban people with quality content has existed for some time, but now we finally have the political will to use them."
Regalado sits on Inspire America Foundation's advisory board, along with more than two dozen others, including Simon Ferro, the former U.S. ambassador to Panama; Modesto Maidique, the former president of Florida International University; Otto Reich, a former assistant secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere; Armando Valladares, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission; and San Roman Herminio, a former director of Radio & TV Mati.
More broadly, the group congratulated the administration for reversing what they referred to as Obama's "appeasement policy towards the Castro regime," and for standing up for Cuban dissidents and exiles who the regime has imprisoned for years for fighting for democratic rights and principles.
"Your decision to create a specific list of entities controlled by the regime was crucial to cutting off a good portion of their blood money," wrote Marcell Felipe, who chairs the group's advisory board. "The regime only liberalizes its economy when it has no source of income. The Obama administration's policies resulted in the regime increasing its repression on freedoms and free enterprise."
The group offered a list of 10 initiatives that would "finish the job" of reversing the Obama administration's Cuba policies. The first and overarching priority, the group said, is for Trump to issue a presidential directive forcing all federal agencies to comply with the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, also known as the LIBERTAD Act.
That measure conditions any loosening of U.S. travel, commerce and other restrictions on Cuba only if the government in Havana agrees to schedule internationally supervised free elections, restore basic freedoms for all Cuban people and release political prisoners. It also conditions looser U.S. policies on Havana's commitment to stop sponsoring terrorism against the U.S. and its allies and to agree to resolve U.S. property claims on private property confiscated by Fidel Castro in the early years of his Cuban revolution.
The group also called on the State Department not to issue any more visas, including those for cultural exchanges, to Cuban government and military officials or their officially approved group of artists. The government censors and represses artists in Cuba who are only allowed to put on "politicized shows" that earn money for the regime in the U.S., Felipe wrote.
"In exchange, rather than have free flow of American artists, we are instead allowed only to take American tourists aboard luxury cruise ships to witness carefully orchestrated regime show, while they at their all-you-can-stuff buffet lines," he wrote. "It is not an exchange, much less a free or cultural one."
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington held a two-week festival in April featuring Castro-regime backed artists.
Citing the Cuban government's intelligence work with Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, and Iran, Felipe and the group’s advisory board also urged the State Department to reinstate Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The Obama administration first removed Cuba from the list in 2015 as part of its rapprochement with the Castro regime.
Among other priorities, the group pressed Trump to downgrade the U.S. embassy in Havana back to an interest section.
"Embassy creates a sense of legitimacy to the regime, which is does not have as a consequence of not having the consent of the people living on the island," he wrote. "Given the low functionality of the embassy at the moment, there are little practical setbacks to doing so."
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson removed most U.S. personnel from the embassy in the wake of debilitating and still-unexplained sonic attacks on at least 21 U.S. diplomats and their family members in Havana.
Published under: Cuba