Cuban-American exiles fill policy roles in mitt Romney presidential campaign.
Exit polls showed Romney the clear favorite among Cuban-Americans who voted in Florida's Jan. 31 Republican presidential primary. He won Miami Dade County, home to many Cuban-Americans, by a 2-to 1 margin over his top rival, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Romney's decisive win in Florida--a big improvement over four years ago, when he came in second to Sen. John McCain (RAZ)--is the result of better advice on how to win the votes of Cuban-American conservative voters.
Romney's top advisors are among the embargo's fiercest defenders. These include Reps. Ileana Ros Lehtinen and Mario DiazBalart, both Cuban-American Republicans representing heavily Hispanic districts in South Florida.
Diaz Balart, who did not support Romney in the 2008 presidential race, now says the former Massachusetts governor is "super solid."
"He clearly understands that appeasing state sponsors of terrorism is a recipe for disaster," Diaz Balart said. "He has a very strong position on denying hard currency to the regime."
Romney's views on Cuba are important because, although he's dogged by several GOP rivals, conventional wisdom says he'll eventually become the GOP nominee for the White House. It's also likely he would select Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban American and strong supporter of Cuba sanctions, as his running mate.
If Romney wins the nomination and goes on to defeat Obama in the November presdiential election, Romney has vowed to:
* Reinstate Bush era restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba that Obama abolished in 2009. The restrictions allowed Cuban-Americans to visit family on the island only once every three years, among other things.
* "Strictly adhere" to the 1996 Helms Burton Act, including Title III, "to place maximum pressure on the Cuban regime." Title III of the act allows Americans to sue people or companies who use Cuban property seized after Castro's 1959 revolution. But no lawsuits have been filed because U.S. presidents consistently waive enforcement of Title III.
* Demand the immediate release of Alan Gross, a 62-year old American arrested more than two years ago for distributing high-tech communication equipment in Cuba through a U.S. Agency for International Development "democracy building" program.
In this regard, Romney is following in the footsteps of President Obama, who also asked for Gross's immediate release.
* Fully fund and effectively implement democracy promotion programs to support Cuba's "brave pro-democracy movement."
What Romney means is he'll ask Congress for generous funding of the controversial USAID program, which Cuba condemns as an attack on its sovereignty. But it's up to Congress to decide what to do with the program.
Sen. John Kerry (DMA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, froze USAID's Cuba policy money last year.
* Order effective use of Radio and TV Marti's broadcasts to the island and "employ robust Internet, social media and other innovative steps to bring information to the Cuban people and help them send information out. "
Breaking Cuba's blocking of Radio and TV signals are prohibitively expensive, especially as Congress looks to cut money from the federal budget. And smuggling high-tech communications equipment to Cuba is risky, as can be seen by the Alan Gross case.
* "Publicly identify by name those police officers, prison officials, judges, state security personnel, and regime officials who mistreat, torture, and oppress the Cuban people so they know they will be held individually accountable."
* Explore all avenues--including criminal indictment--to ensure that Fidel and Raul Castro are held accountable for the killing of four Americans in the downing of the Brothers to the Rescue airplanes."
Yet it's unclear how a U.S. court could try the Castro brothers for the 1996 shoot down of Cuban exiles in Cuban airspace, or who would extradite the Castros for trial.
CANF DISMISSES ROMNEY 'CAMPAIGN RHETORIC'
Francisco "Pepe" Hernandez, president of the Miami based Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), said some of Romney's proposed Cuba policies are merely campaign rhetoric that would be discarded if he ever entered the Oval Office.
Implementation of Helms Burton's Title III would be "very upsetting to the Europeans," Hernandez said, and not likely to happen.
"I honestly believe this is just a campaign promise," he told Cuba News. "Candidates often say things to get the votes of Cuban-Americans that is very different from what they do after they get elected."
Yet Hernandez said Romney would probably use his authority as president to follow the recommendations of Ros Lehtinen, Diaz Balart and other Cuba hardliners to roll back Cuban-American travel and remittances and end Obama's policy that encourages "purposeful' travel to Cuba.
"And that would be very, very unfortunate," Hernandez said of the rollback.
Romney has tapped a Bush administration official, Clifford Sobel, former U.S. ambassador to Brazil and the Netherlands, to help him shape his policy toward Latin America.
Ray Walser, a Foreign Service veteran who is a senior policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, is also helping shape Romney's Cuba policy.
And there are several Cuban American hardliners on Romney's "Hispanic Outreach Steering Committee" including Carlos Gutierrez, who was secretary of commerce in the Bush administration.
Gutierrez also served as the co chair of the U.S. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, a panel that recommended the rollback of travel and remittances. Former Sen. Mel Martinez (RFL), Ros Lehtinen and Diaz Balart are also on the outreach team.
Washington-based journalist Ana Radelat has covered Cuba related issues on Capitol Hill for CubaNews since the newsletter's birth in 1993.