Advertisement
  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.”

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran speaks to an unidentified man outside of Tampa Bay Academy Monday, April 15, 2019 in Tampa. CHRIS URSO  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Richard Corcoran has convinced the State Board of Education to sign off on a new funding formula for the 28-college system, which, with more than 320,000 students, is widely viewed as one of the...
  2. Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Miami while visiting Ball & Chain in Little Havana for a meet-and-greet with Hispanic voters on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. [CARL JUSTE CJUSTE | Miami Herald]
    While candidates vie for votes in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary states, the struggle in Florida six months from the primary election is about big money.
  3. A view of the I-275 northbound Sunpass lane at the Skyway Bridge. VRAGOVIC, WILL  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The lost money is from unpaid tolls stemming from problems with the vendor Conduent State & Local Solutions.
  4. Mark. S, Inch, Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, at the State Capitol, May, 1, 2019. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Mark Inch said the root of the problem lies with low salaries and long shifts for prison guards.
  5. Female driver texting on mobile phone while driving. STAR TRIBUNE  |  baona/Star Tribune/TNS
    Police are choosing to issue warnings instead of tickets — so far.
  6. Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, speaks to delegates during the 2019 Massachusetts Democratic Party Convention, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Springfield, Mass. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) JESSICA HILL  |  AP
    Kimberly Diaz Scott was the Central Florida regional director for Charlie Crist’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign when he ran as a Democrat against Rick Scott.
  7. In this July 22, 2008, photo, traffic passes in front of the New York Times building in New York. MARK LENNIHAN  |  AP
    The allegation stems from their reporting on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
  8. Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. talk during a break Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) DAVID J. PHILLIP  |  AP
    34 percent of Floridians picked the former vice president. Background checks for gun sales saw overwhelming support.
  9. State Rep. Chris Sprowls, 35, addresses the Florida House of Representatives, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla., after the Republican was elected to lead the 120-member chamber. (AP Photo/Bobby Caina Calvan) BOBBY CAINA CALVAN  |  AP
    The Pinellas Republican did not shy away from the wedge issues of the day, wading into 2020 presidential politics, abortion and climate change.
  10. The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County identified a positive case of hepatitis A in a food service worker at Hamburger Mary's in Ybor City on Oct. 22, 2018. [JOSH FIALLO | Times] JOSH FIALLO | TIMES  |  JOSH FIALLO | Times
    Slightly more than 200,000 people have been vaccinated this year — a huge jump from the 49,324 people vaccinated in all of 2018.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement