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Cuba activist Al Fox explores challenging Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate seat

The Tampa advocate, 77, has run for Congress before and lost. But he says today’s political landscape motivated him to try again.
Al Fox has been working 15 years from Tampa on improving U.S. relations with Cuba.
Al Fox has been working 15 years from Tampa on improving U.S. relations with Cuba.
Published Jun. 7
Updated Jun. 9

One of Tampa and Florida’s most notable voices on Cuban relations is exploring a run against a man he stands in diametric opposition to: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Albert “Al” Fox Jr., 77, has been an advocate for reestablishing relationships with Cuba for the past two decades as the president of the nonprofit he founded, Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation.

On Monday, the Democrat announced he’s forming an exploratory committee for the 2022 Senate race.

Fox said he had been mulling a run for the past year, but the Jan. 6 Capitol riot changed things for him. He had known one of the Capitol police officers who died by suicide, Howard Liebengood, since Liebengood was 10 years old, Fox said.

“I’m just very concerned not only about our country but our leaders,” Fox said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “All our leaders are motivated by one thing, reelection and money.”

Fox would have a steep hill to climb to get through the Democratic primary and beat Rubio, a two-term Republican from Miami, who already has millions in fundraising, according to the Federal Election Commission. Florida Rep. Val Demings, a Democrat from Central Florida, is also exploring a run. Other Democrats are also eyeing the seat, including Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell and former Congressman Alan Grayson. Democrats see the race as one where they could potentially pick up a seat in the Senate, which is currently evenly split between the parties.

Rubio, who has been a U.S. senator since 2010 and was re-elected in 2016, is also Cuban-American, but unlike Fox stands in firm opposition to normalizing relationships with Cuba.

When he ran for president, Rubio said he would swiftly overturn Barack Obama’s policy that established connections with the island, and he praised Donald Trump for reversing the policy and tightening restrictions.

Fox, who grew up in Tampa Bay, worked for years in Washington, D.C., as a senior congressional staff assistant in the Senate and House of Representatives and as a lobbyist. He said his experience in the nation’s capital gives him a leg up on other contenders.

Fox previously ran for U.S. Congress in 2006, eventually losing to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. At the time, he was the only candidate in the race calling for resuming relations with Cuba, he said; another notable member of the Tampa Cuban community printed signs that read “Give Fidel Castro a voice in the U.S. Congress: Vote Al Fox.”

But Fox said that, with time, many leaders have come around to his position. He criticized President Joe Biden for “dragging his feet” on reversing Trump’s Cuba policy.

The Cuban government is controlling, Fox said, but he said their human rights violations are no more egregious than countries like Saudi Arabia or China, which Americans enjoy mostly unfettered access to and trade with.

“Cuba is suffering and anybody that’s got an ounce of Cuban blood in their veins, they should be insulted by this policy,” he said.

Over the years, Fox has taken many politicians, religious leaders and more on more than 100 fact-finding trips to Cuba. He was fined by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for allegedly traveling twice under an improper license. The initial $100,000 fine was settled at $10,000. His attorney maintained he did nothing wrong and that he was targeted based on political motivation, according to the Miami Herald.

Though he’s known for his work around Cuba, Fox said he also plans to focus on immigration, climate change and healthcare, which he believes is a right for all people.

“I’ve never been about ‘I’, its never been my style,” Fox said. “My style has always been four five people negotiating something and making something happen. When you’re not worried about who gets credit a lot of things can happen.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated who had printed the signs criticizing Fox during his 2006 campaign. Another prominent member of the Tampa Cuban community printed them.