Obama Tells Cuban-Americans He'll Meet With Cuba's Communist Leaders

Barack Obama is still in Florida. Today, he spoke at a luncheon for the largest organization of Cuban-American exiles -- a pretty conservative bunch. He told them he would meet with Cuba's new leaders.

The annual Cuban Independence Day banquet of the Cuban American National Foundation cheered Obama's avowed commitment to fostering democracy in Cuba. But the audience showed its wariness of his talk of meeting with Cuban leaders. Mere handfuls applauded that statement from among the crowd of at least 500.

....Foundation Chairman Jorge Mas Santos voiced the Cuban American community's enduring opposition to any U.S. president meeting with the Castro regime before political prisoners are released and free elections slated. The son of the foundation's late founder, Mas described any expectation of engaging Raul Castro in democratic reforms as "wishful thinking."

Did he win himself any votes today? He did say he would end the travel restrictions and limits on sending money home, but he would also maintain the embargo.

The Miami Herald reports: [More...]

Before Obama spoke, state House Speaker Marco Rubio -- a Republican and the first Cuban-American House speaker in Florida's history -- laid down a challenge to the Democratic candidate's commitment to meet with leaders, including Castro.

The freedom of the Cuban people should ''never be negotiated with the illegitimate leaders of that country,'' Rubio said to applause.

The GOP launched several preemptive attacks, including a memo headlined ''Obama: Weak on Cuba,'' and an Internet video highlighting what it said was a flip-flop on the embargo. Obama advocated lifting sanctions when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, but now says the embargo should stay in place.

Cuban-American U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Miami assailed Obama in a prearranged phone call with reporters.

''Mr. Obama has a lot of explaining to do over the next few months in Florida,'' Diaz-Balart said, ``to try to assure people that his inexperience and naivete are not as worrisome as they seem.''

Obama also told the audience he's not really up to speed on Cuba:

''I don't presume to know everything that I need to know about Cuba, and I am here not just to talk but to listen,'' Obama said. ``This is just hello, this is not goodbye. I am going to be spending a lot of time in South Florida.''

The AP has more on Obama's outreach to "foes" The Washington Post also reports on the candidates and Cuba.

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  • Display: Sort:
    It seems (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by Ga6thDem on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:17:16 PM EST
    it's the same story with Cuba that it is with Iran. One day he says one thing the next day he says something else.

    The impression I got is that none of this went over well with the Cuban Americans.

    Our President should be talking to Cuba! (none / 0) (#75)
    by kindness on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:53:56 PM EST
    Are you going to spout back John McCain & dubya's Iran/Cuba lines?

    I am really disappointed to see folks who say they support Democrats to be using Karl Roves lines and tactics.


    God forbid (5.00 / 1) (#81)
    by Edgar08 on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:57:46 PM EST
    Anything be discussed.

    There are more preconditions on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in a neo-con's philosophy.

    I just want to know if Obama can imagine one.


    The Current Emabargo is Not only worthless... (5.00 / 4) (#2)
    by Niffari on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:18:05 PM EST
    The current embargo is not only worthless in achieving its aims, it actually hurts Cubans. Now these poor people who lack economic opportunity have even less resources thank to the hard-liners in Miami and the panderers in Washington. This is a classic case of people putting ideology above what's good. Obama does a little to push the line but really, the embargo hasn't worked. I mean, it's been about 50 yrs right? I would love to hear a politician just say, "look guys, I understand your beef, but the embargo isn't driving out Castro. He's still there. Let's try something else."

    On a side note, the Coast Guard has openly criticized the US policy of granting Cubans asylum once on land. They have pointed to horrific instances of deaths occurring in the waters off of Miami just because the traffickers don't want be caught and prosecuted. The traffickers simply dump the passengers overboard and tell them to swim. Babies, children. This part of the policy should be reexamined as well.

    Good for him (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by SpinDoctor on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:19:30 PM EST
    Having grown up in Miami, I am quite sensitive to the issues of our Cuban-American population.  However, our policies over the last several decades have accomplished nothing beneficial.  To the contrary, it has negatively impacted innocent Cubans who are no different than their neighbors to the north.   The embargo has not only failed to lead to any change, but has had the detrimental effect of destroying the quality of life for most Cubans.

    Something needs to change and starting a dialogue with Raul Castro, in my opinion, is a good first step.  Imagine the economic good that would accrue to the Cuban people that would come from lifting the embargo.  While I understand Obama has not taken that position, I truly believe the only way to secure any meaningful change in Cuba is to remove the embargo and begin changing the political dynamics from within.

    you're dealing with fanatics though. (none / 0) (#48)
    by Salo on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:42:06 PM EST
    And when change comes the fanatics who are wedded to he old ways are going to snap.

    Like the Soviet Union? (none / 0) (#60)
    by SpinDoctor on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:47:59 PM EST
    No doubt change will be difficult but the Cuban people are ready for change with tens of thousands of expatriated Cubans ready to return.  There will be a very small minority of Cubans who will hold on to the past.  I remain convinced that we can do far more to bring about change in Cuba by eliminating the embargo and working from within, then we will ever accomplish by pretending that Cuba does not exist.

    Fanatics (none / 0) (#72)
    by jondee on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:52:21 PM EST
    is that anthing like those thousands (including childern), that Hagee indoctrinates into the belief that Armageddon in the M.E is inevitable?

    I Don't Know If It Would Be Possible For obama (5.00 / 4) (#4)
    by PssttCmere08 on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:21:31 PM EST
    to be seen in a worse light than he already is...
    They nailed him to the wall on his flip-flop and I am sure it won't be the only one!  If obama thought he could fool the Cuban electorate, I guess he had better think again!

    What's more important (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by SpinDoctor on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:26:01 PM EST
    Outlining his vision or pandering to get votes?  This is not the first time Obama has taken a position that is not politically expedient to his audience, and agree or disagree with his stance, I would hope you could at least respect the political courage in not pandering.

    oooh spin doctor stop....I am so dizzy... (5.00 / 2) (#32)
    by PssttCmere08 on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:34:32 PM EST
    If you believe that b.s., perhaps I can sell you the Brooklyn Bridge....

    Time to talk to the hand or get a clue please.


    watch it, that's my bridge! smile! (none / 0) (#119)
    by hellothere on Fri May 23, 2008 at 06:48:27 PM EST
    Your name (4.20 / 5) (#17)
    by madamab on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:27:26 PM EST
    is well-earned.

    He admitted he wasn't up to speed on Cuba. How can we tell what his opinion will be when he is more informed?

    Just another way for Obama to be all things to all people.


    He admitted no such thing (5.00 / 1) (#28)
    by SpinDoctor on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:32:35 PM EST
    If you want to debate, at least be accurate.  Obama claimed he does not know "everything" about Cuba.  How could he or anyone else unless they have lived in that environment for decades?

    I lived in Miami for 20 years and still wouldn't claim to know everything about the Cuban condition.  He was honest and any politician who claims they know "everything" about an issue is willfully obtuse, ignorant and dangerous...to wit, George Bush.


    We disagree on this. (5.00 / 0) (#40)
    by madamab on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:38:24 PM EST
    I think it was a pre-emptive disclaimer. It's a rhetorical trick people use so, when caught in a mistake (like the embargo flip-flop), they can defend themselves...exactly the way you are defending him right now.

    Gotta go run errands now. Have a great weekend, everyone!


    Actually (5.00 / 1) (#47)
    by americanincanada on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:41:36 PM EST
    what he said was "I don't claim to know everything I should know..."

    He was letting them know that he should know more...but he doesn't.


    yeah maybe (none / 0) (#90)
    by english teacher on Fri May 23, 2008 at 04:02:03 PM EST
    next time i will know what the h3ll i'm talking about, since this is just hello and all...

    To someone steeped in an emotional issue (none / 0) (#108)
    by rilkefan on Fri May 23, 2008 at 04:16:32 PM EST
    there's no such thing as knowing enough.  This is Obama being humble/real/non-elitist/respectful.  Plus the policy direction is right.

    Obama (none / 0) (#76)
    by Evie on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:54:19 PM EST
    "said he would immediately allow unlimited family travel and remittances".

    That isn't pandering?

    As for meeting with Castro, I think he's just trying to be consistent with his previous statements meeting with dictators without preconditions. If he didn't say what he did, he would have been attacked for flip-flopping.


    You are totally correct (none / 0) (#92)
    by independent voter on Fri May 23, 2008 at 04:03:54 PM EST
    and you must have known before you posted your comment you would be attacked. Rules of the TL commenters: Obama can do no right. If he does anything that helps him politically, he is criticized for being "just another pol"; if he takes a principled stand he is slammed for not pandering. He cannot win, and even though you make an excellent point, you cannot win here.
    I just wanted you to know, not every one agrees with all the bile being spewed here.

    You have to admit that it takes... (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by independent thinker on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:21:51 PM EST
    courage to speak to Cuban Americans in FL honestly about a view different from many in their community. Even if you disagree with his statement to meet with officials in the Cuban government, this shows he is no pushover. And frankly, the current policy on Cuba is a failure, IMO.

    The "do what we want or we won't talk to you" approach is the George Bush method of diplomacy and we sure know how well that has worked out for us. Personally, I want a POTUS who will engage both are friends and enemies in dialogue. Talking doesn't imply acquiescence. It implies communication.

    Do not conflate courage with naivete. (5.00 / 2) (#15)
    by rooge04 on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:26:36 PM EST
    There is a whole plethora of middle ground between embargoes and no diplomacy and sitting down for a chat with Castro.  Obama apparently doesn't understand that.

    I would respect his views more (5.00 / 2) (#21)
    by Evie on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:28:18 PM EST
    if he could demonstrate that such views and their divergence from generally accepted policy, if any, were based on being extremely informed on the issues.

    Particularly when the issue involves meeting with enemies of the U.S.

    Learning on the job in such a situation is a very scary prospect.


    Cuba is an enemy of the US? (none / 0) (#36)
    by SpinDoctor on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:35:46 PM EST
    Cuba has a lot to be held accountable for, but to call them an enemy of the United States is somewhat hyperbolic.  We have allies whose atrocities against their people are far worse than Cuba (i.e. Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia etc...).

    Not specifically about Cuba (none / 0) (#102)
    by Evie on Fri May 23, 2008 at 04:10:35 PM EST
    Obama's views on unconditional meetings with dictators can be applied to several countries, including enemies.

    He has stated such as regards Ahmedinejad, Chavez, and others anyway.


    It especially takes courage (4.00 / 4) (#24)
    by nycstray on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:29:33 PM EST
    when you haven't done your homework before hand. Or would that just be arrogance? Lack of experience? Both?


    ''I don't presume to know everything that I need to know about Cuba, and I am here not just to talk but to listen,'' Obama said. ``This is just hello, this is not goodbye. I am going to be spending a lot of time in South Florida.''

    Kinda scary that he's running around telling groups things when he's not fully up to speed on what the situation is. . . .


    God Forbid (2.00 / 1) (#31)
    by brad12345 on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:34:02 PM EST
    a presidential candidate didn't just give a speech but also listened to voters in an effort to learn something.

    No no no no no (none / 0) (#87)
    by Edgar08 on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:58:50 PM EST
    Can you imagine a pre-condition that might be helpful?

    My goodness... (5.00 / 6) (#6)
    by madamab on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:21:53 PM EST
    couldn't he get himself up to speed on Cuba before getting in front of a bunch of Cuban-Americans and pontificating on the issue?

    Not ready for primetime, Example #5,000,012.

    I am not a Presidential candidate (5.00 / 8) (#7)
    by Evie on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:22:05 PM EST
    nor do I want to be. But if I were speaking before a group of Cuban-Americans, I would take the time to do the research on Cuban-American issues BEFORE that speech. ESPECIALLY when one of the major criticisms about me is inexperience.

    Is it THAT hard?

    and do you think (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by TruthMatters on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:26:28 PM EST
    Cuban-American issues are something you can learn in a week? exactly how much research do you think is needed?

    are you telling me you would attack Hillary if she too said she didn't know everything, but was here to listen and learn what she doesn't know?


    Why does he only have a week? (5.00 / 4) (#23)
    by madamab on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:29:12 PM EST
    Has he only been running for President for a week now?



    But he said.... (5.00 / 4) (#38)
    by ineedalife on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:37:20 PM EST
    he was the best qualified in foreign policy because he lived as a six year old in Indonesia. Can't have it both ways.

    If one (5.00 / 2) (#25)
    by ccpup on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:30:17 PM EST
    is arrogant enough to confidently assume that 1) he's the Nominee and 2) those who voted Democrat in the past will OF COURSE for vote for whoever the Nominee is, then it makes perfect sense to believe one can "wing it", so to speak, in front of a Voting Bloc he'll absolutely need if he runs in Nov.

    (I don't believe he'll be the Nominee, by the way.  This constant string of faux pas and flip-flops has gotta have the remaining Undecided SDs gnashing their teeth and pulling out what's left of their hair)


    Hillary sure would have. (none / 0) (#103)
    by rise hillary rise on Fri May 23, 2008 at 04:11:38 PM EST
    Not to mention a 5 point plan starting her first month in office!

    This man (5.00 / 4) (#8)
    by Monda on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:23:16 PM EST
    never ceases to amaze me.  "Foreign policy is not for public discussion", "whatever Hillary said, Ditto", "Medvediev, yeah", "I agree about Iran, but don't make it sound so tough" etc etc etc ... and now?  I'll meet with your hated leaders, but but but, I don't really know the way.  Oh, wait, Hillary had tea and cookies with foreign leaders.  I'll ask her.  

    At least for once (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by facta non verba on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:26:16 PM EST
    he's honest but it won't win him any votes. He might lose NJ as well. The Venezuelan-American community is small, under a 750,000 but it is concentrated. The Colombian-American community is larger, a bit over 2 million and the Cuban-American community is even larger and more powerful. And Obama has pissed off all three.

    actually if anyone actually WATCHED (none / 0) (#20)
    by TruthMatters on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:28:12 PM EST
    the speech they would know he got at least 3 standing ovations, he definitely won some votes today.

    I did watch the speech and I know (5.00 / 1) (#35)
    by americanincanada on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:35:16 PM EST
    why he got the ovations he did.

    Some in the room have their own reasons for wanting to send money and family members back to Cuba and it has nothing to do with negotiating with the person every speaker before Obama called "the illegitimate ruler" and the person who they would accept nothing less from than "complete and utter surrender."

    Should we start talking about Obama's 'lliance of Americas' and how he has plans for them and for the hemisphere? How he was trying to equate Cuba-FLoridian's needs and views with those of people in Venezuala and Haiti? Those parts of the spech went over like a lead balloon.

    Obama should not go there with such assurances and policy changes, making pledges and promises like he did today, when he has not done his research. anyone with even a passing knowledge of FLorida politics and the relations between Cubans vs. the rest of the hispanic population of the state would never have done that.


    he got standing ovations from the naacp (none / 0) (#98)
    by english teacher on Fri May 23, 2008 at 04:07:30 PM EST
    detroit speech, too.  he told the crowd, "hey guys, give yourselves a standing ovation for all the work you do" and BAM, the media reports "standing ovations for obama".  you and this dude need to give all the phoney baloney a nice long rest.  

    there were flies that there and the crowds (none / 0) (#122)
    by hellothere on Fri May 23, 2008 at 06:56:50 PM EST
    were trying to get rid of them. didn't you watch the video?

    My cat (5.00 / 2) (#51)
    by stillife on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:43:24 PM EST
    is named Raul Catstro.  I have it on good authority that he will not speak to Obama.  He's in the tank for Hillary.

    He has been to FL several times... (5.00 / 3) (#57)
    by kredwyn on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:46:16 PM EST
    He was there quite a bit before the pledge.

    He took a position on Cuba and the embargo back in August.

    It's almost a year later.

    Yes, I expect him to know a whole lot more on Cuba that he apparently does.

    McCain (5.00 / 1) (#84)
    by DCDemocrat on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:58:04 PM EST
    calls Obama, "the very, very inexperienced junior Senator from Illinois with only three years in the Senate."  I suppose it's hard to argue with that.

    As the Chinese say (none / 0) (#110)
    by jondee on Fri May 23, 2008 at 04:22:32 PM EST
    when the wrong man says the right thing, it means nothing.

    McCain has alot of "experience" triangulating with the Four More Wars cabal, Rapturists and outsourcers with offshore tax shelters; is his subtext that Obama needs a little more of THAT kind of experience?


    I was born in Cuba and left the Island with only (5.00 / 2) (#91)
    by FLVoter on Fri May 23, 2008 at 04:02:52 PM EST
    my immediate family with only the clothes on our backs in 1967.  My mother's uncle was incarcerated as a political prisoner in Cuba from 1968 to 1985 for opposing Castro's government.  For years we have sent care packages to family in Cuba only to find that not all items sent reach family.  Contrary to Michael Moore's documentary, we have had to send medicines to one family member in particular who cannot obtain sufficient enough doses of his required heart medication.  We have thankfully been able to send most care packages and money via relatives living in Canada. Problem is, even if the embargo is lifted do you honestly believe that this will truly benefit the Cuban people?  In my experience, only those connected to the government have benefited and will continue to benefit.  Sen. Obama is very naive in speaking to the Cuban government without releasing political prisoners and improving human rights.  Walk a mile in my shoes before putting on your rose-colored glasses concerning improvements in Cuba.  My family has been there done that.  Changing the Cuban government from within is virtually impossible, since if you oppose it, you could very well disappear the next day into a prison. I know that it is hard for those who have not experienced it first hand to even believe this is possible, but it is.

    it's his (5.00 / 3) (#95)
    by english teacher on Fri May 23, 2008 at 04:05:03 PM EST
    job to know that the h^ll he is talking about.  jesus.

    Glad to see Obama's showing a little leadership (5.00 / 1) (#97)
    by rilkefan on Fri May 23, 2008 at 04:07:22 PM EST
    on this.  Not far enough in my view, but he can work against the embargo when he's elected.  HRC's been better informed and rhetorically sure-footed than him on fp, but this is one area where she's plain worse of policy.

    Re getting "Obama also told the audience he's not really up to speed on Cuba" from:
        ''I don't presume to know everything that I need to know about Cuba, and I am here not just to talk but to listen,'' Obama said. ``This is just hello, this is not goodbye. I am going to be spending a lot of time in South Florida.''

    That's totally unfair in my view.  HRC has said that kind of thing many times, hasn't she?  And wasn't it obviously an admirable expression of humble interest in people and desire to connect when she did?

    The Embrago (5.00 / 1) (#117)
    by glennmcgahee on Fri May 23, 2008 at 06:18:22 PM EST
    We in South Florida are used to politicians pan dering to the Cuban community. Only 4 months ago, Obama said that he was for lifting the embargo against Cuba. Of course, before the Cuban American Foundation, he said otherwise. Natch.

    I've had enough ... (none / 0) (#44)
    by independent thinker on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:39:54 PM EST
    of candidates who say whatever it takes to get elected. By challenging the conservative establishment in the FL Cuban community he is reaching beyond them to their children and grandchildren who, quite frankly, are not as hardline about America's policy on Cuba. He clearly will not win over all Cuban Americans, but he will win some and further, he will earn the respect a some who don't vote for him by showing the strength of character to not pander.

    And if you actually watched the speech youwould have seen several standing ovations.

    People LIKE pandering (none / 0) (#93)
    by dianem on Fri May 23, 2008 at 04:04:06 PM EST
    Voter's do not say to themselves "Wow. This candidate is not supporting my beliefs. I admire him so much for not agreeing with me.". That's not how people think. We want our politicians to represent us, not stand up to us. I'm sure that there were standing ovations. The Obama campaign is smart enough to be sure to put Obama fans in prominent positions, and in groups, to ensure that there is plenty of hightly photographable cheering, applause, and standing.

    Yes, Hillary is policy wonk. (none / 0) (#68)
    by independent thinker on Fri May 23, 2008 at 03:49:30 PM EST
    And yes she knows a lot about many things. But not everything. But get real...Obama saying ''I don't presume to know everything that I need to know about Cuba..." is not saying he knows nothing about Cuba. Anyone who claims to know everything about anything is lying...or delusional. Here Obama is using a conciliatory approach to indicate that while he doesn't completely agree with the policy advocated by the hardliners that he is willing to listen, that he is open to hearing opposing points of view.

    Why not just sponser... (none / 0) (#89)
    by dianem on Fri May 23, 2008 at 04:00:54 PM EST
    ...a statue on the Washington Mall of Fidel Castro. Has this man bothered to learn ANYTHING about Cuban politics?

    Not Pandering There (none / 0) (#125)
    by squeaky on Fri May 23, 2008 at 11:49:48 PM EST
    FWIW. The only ones he refuses to meet with is Hamas. Many Americans think that it is not such a bad thing to start dialogue with our enemies considering that the BushCo silent treatment only seems to have made things worse.

    apparently, (none / 0) (#126)
    by cpinva on Sat May 24, 2008 at 12:35:49 AM EST
    the majority of the cuban people think the castro regime is the legitimate government, and has for going on 60 years now. there's never been a serious home-grown challenge, in spite of all our efforts.

    i think perhaps it's time to deal with them the same way we dealt with the USSR, Red China and all the various and sundry despotic regimes we've had diplomatic relations with since WWII.

    that a small, loud minority holds such sway over the entire country's international policies is a bit ridiculous. geez, they're even a minority in FL!