U.S. Senate candidate Beruff draws criticism for earlier Cuba trip
TALLAHASSEE — Just where does U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff stand on relations with Cuba? It's complicated.
Since Beruff, a Republican from Manatee County, announced his campaign in February, he has consistently said he would oppose ending the embargo with Cuba without major democratic reforms. That helps align him with hard-line embargo supporters such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who could face Beruff in the primary if he runs for re-election.
But Beruff's campaign position doesn't jibe with his actions less than five years ago, when he boarded a plane in Tampa for the first commercial flight from Tampa Bay to Cuba in nearly 50 years.
Back then, Beruff was one of a select few businessmen invited to go on the historic trip sponsored by the antiembargo advocacy group, the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation. The flight, which cost more than $450 for Beruff, included Ybor City-raised Albert A. Fox Jr., one of the most well-known advocates of re-establishing trade with Cuba. For four days in September 2011, the group met with Cuban business leaders and government officials.
But Beruff, born in Miami to Cuban refugees, says now that when he agreed to go on the trip, he had no idea it was about advocating for ending the embargo. During a campaign stop in Jacksonville last week, Beruff said he was simply "along for the ride" and had no idea who Fox was or why the other people on the flight were going to Cuba.
"It wasn't anything to do with politics," Beruff said about his reasons. "I was just a tourist."
But those on the trip say the mission was about ending the 1962-imposed embargo.
"It was crystal clear why all of us were there," said Victor DiMaio, who was working with the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation to arrange the trip.