1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

Charlie Crist quietly visited Cuba as tensions over Venezuela escalated

The unannounced trip put Crist in front of leaders bashing the United States over its handling of South America’s crisis.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is photographed with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez during Crist's trip to the island nation last month and published on Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba's Communist Party. [Photo courtesy of Granma.]
Published May 15
Updated May 15

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist quietly traveled to Cuba last month to meet with officials there amid mounting tension between the Communist island and President Donald Trump’s administration over the crisis in Venezuela.

The trip spanned April 25 through April 27, according to travel records maintained by the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics, and was not announced by Crist’s Congressional office. There are no details about it on his House website. The sponsor of the trip was the Center for Democracy in the Americas, an organization that “promotes a U.S. policy toward Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba’s sovereignty,” according to its website.

Crist said his visit focused on “advancements in US-Cuba policy and relations made during the Obama Administration, and the impact of the Trump Administration’s change in course.” The St. Petersburg Democrat was a vocal supporter of the easing of travel and business restrictions championed by President Barack Obama but pulled back after Trump took office.

TRUMP VS. CUBA: Go ahead and sue Cuba, Trump administration tells owners of some nationalized property

Tampa, St. Petersburg families seek payback for seized Cuban land

Trump goes after MLB’s Cuba policy

“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.”

But Crist’s tour of the island coincided with growing diplomatic strain between Trump and Cuban leaders over the situation in Venezuela, a country in the midst of a humanitarian and constitutional crisis. Trump’s foreign policy team and influential Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio have accused Cuba of propping up Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, the country’s disputed leader. National Security Advisor John Bolton claimed there are more than 20,000 Cuban troops in South America providing security for Maduro.

Cuba vigorously denied the charges. Indeed, on the day Crist arrived in Cuba, the country’s Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla called Bolton a “pathological liar” and demanded he back up his accusations with evidence. Intelligence and diplomatic experts have also questioned Cuba’s influence in Venezuela given its own economic hardships, according to the New York Times, though the country has undoubtedly supported Maduro against calls for him to step aside.

RELATED: Marco Rubio and Venezuela: What a Twitter campaign to oust Maduro says about modern diplomacy

During his stay in Cuba, Crist and Rodriguez Parrilla were photographed together in a picture published by Granma, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. Chief of Staff Austin Durrer accompanied Crist on the trip, according to U.S. House travel records.

Durrer said there was not any specific reason why Crist did not publicize his travel there. “The goal was to get a better understanding of the situation,” he said.

Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott, a Cuban hardliner, called Crist’s visit to the island “an absolute disgrace" and alleged that “the money he and any staff spent in Havana was sent to Caracas to keep Maduro and his brutal regime in power.”

Crist has joined most of the Florida Congressional delegation in calling for Maduro to turn over power to Interim President Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by Venezuela’s national assembly, the United States and dozens of allies as the country’s legitimate leader. Shortly after returning from Cuba, Crist released a statement calling on Maduro to "step down and end the senseless killing of his own civilians, who yearn for nothing more than freedom and a better tomorrow.”

MORE ON CHARLIE CRIST: Did Attorney General William Barr lie to Rep. Charlie Crist?

To help win the south, Congressional Democrats turn to former Republican Charlie Crist

Who is Charlie Crist? The answer is complicated.

The Center for Democracy in the Americas, the organization that paid Crist’s travel, has been critical of Trump’s involvement in Cuba and Venezuela. The organization’s executive director Emily Mendrala recently told the Miami Herald that Trump’s policies toward Cuba were “mean-spirited” and his administration’s attempts to "exploit events in Venezuela to settle Cold War scores with Cuba is a distraction from real needs in Venezuela.”


  1. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis talks to reporters in Tampa on Aug. 21. Delays in his filling vacancies on the state's five water management district boards have twice led to those agencies canceling meetings to levy taxes and set budgets, which one expert said was unprecedented. OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES  |  Times
    Vacancies lead to canceling two agencies’ budget meetings.
  2. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  3. Richard Swearingen, Florida's Commissioner of the Department of Law Enforcement, testifies before state lawmakers on Monday. Florida Channel
    But law enforcement officials are getting behind a “threat assessment system.”
  4. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  5. The Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach. JOE RAEDLE  |  Getty Images
    It wasn’t immediately clear how much Mar-a-Lago would charge to host the Marine Corps Birthday Ball — or even if it might do so for free.
  6. In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. JOSH EDELSON  |  AP
    ‘Guns are always a volatile topic in the halls of the legislature,’ one Republican said.
  7. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  8. Tonight's LGBTQ Presidential Forum is hosted by Angelica Ross of FX's Pose. Twitter
    A live stream of the event and what to watch for as 10 candidates meet on stage in Iowa.
  9. In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.  [AP Photo | Steven Senne] STEVEN SENNE  |  AP
    "The department does not appear to have the authority to do anything.”
  10. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.