Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Charlie Crist on why he wants to visit Cuba: 'This policy has not worked'

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 Department of State or Cuban government reject the idea. The former Republican governor said he is optimistic after submitting his request to the Department of State 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.

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," Gov. 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 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 Cuba remaining a state-terror sponsor, as recently designated by the Obama administration. 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.

"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."

Charlie Crist on why he wants to visit Cuba: 'This policy has not worked' 05/09/14 [Last modified: Friday, May 9, 2014 10:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. CBO analysis: 23 million would lose health coverage under House-passed bill

    National

    WASHINGTON — The Republican health care bill that passed the House earlier this month would nearly double the number of Americans without health insurance over the next decade, according to a new analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

    Demonstrators protests the passage of a House Republican health care bill, outside the the Capitol in Washington, on May 4. The House took the unusual step of voting on the American Health Care Act before the Congressional Budget Office could assess it. That analysis was released Thursday and it showed the bill would cause 23 million fewer people to have health insurance by 2026. Many additional consumers would see skimpier health coverage and higher deductibles, the budget office projected.
  2. Florida Specialty Insurance acquires Pinellas Park's Mount Beacon Insurance

    Banking

    Tens of thousands of homeowners who were pushed out of Citizens Property Insurance for a private carrier since 2014 are finding themselves changing insurance companies yet again.

  3. Pope Francis presents Trump with a 'politically loaded gift': His encyclical on climate change

    Global Warming

    VATICAN CITY — On Wednesday, Pope Francis appeared to make his point with a gift.

    Ivanka Trump, first lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Wednesday.  [Evan Vucci/Pool via The New York Times]
  4. Tampa police say 41-year-old man shot and killed by ex-boss, investigation ongoing

    Crime

    TAMPA — A 41-year-old man was shot and killed by his former boss Wednesday morning outside the West Tampa auto body shop where they once worked together, according to Tampa police.

  5. Father and brother of alleged bomber detained in Libya

    World

    The father and younger brother of the man who British police say bombed an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester have been detained in Libya, where anti-terror authorities said the brother confessed to knowing "all the details" of the attack plot.

    Hashim Ramadan Abedi appears inside the Tripoli-based Special Deterrent anti-terrorism force unit after his arrest on Tuesday for alleged links to the Islamic State extremist group. Abedi is the brother of Salman Abedi, who has been identified as the man behind the bombing that killed 22 people and wounded scores at an Ariana Grande concert Monday night in Manchester. [Ahmed Bin Salman, Special Deterrent Force via AP]