Charlie Crist: Time to end the U.S. embargo against Cuba

Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist has now done what would have been treasonous as a Republican and announced support for ending the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

“The embargo has done nothing in more than fifty years to change the regime in Cuba,” Crist said Friday night in a statement, after announcing his support for the shift in policy on Bill Mahrer’s HBO show. The former governor was finishing up a week of appearances on the left-leaning talk show circuit to promote his new book.

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That’s the kind of talk that traditionally gets Florida politicians in hot water, especially in Miami — where anti-Castro sentiments run deep and the human rights abuses in the communist nation sting like an open wound.

“If we want to bring democracy to Cuba, we need to encourage American values and investment there, not block ourselves out and cede influence to China,” Crist said. “It will take time, and we must do it in a way where American investment helps people, not the dictatorship. But the reality is that no state’s economy is hurt more by America’s Cuba policies than Florida.

“Changing these policies to allow Florida’s’ farmers, manufacturers, and construction industry to sell goods and services in Cuba would boost Florida’s economy and help businesses create more jobs in our state.”

Crist is not alone in expressing these new-found sentiments. Palm Beach sugar barron Alfy Fanjul, whose family fled Cuba a generation ago, made national news this week when he announced that he also believes the time has come to ease relations with his former country. Fanjul, who was a supporter of former President Bill Clinton, has quietly started visiting the island and meeting with top Cuban officials to explore investment options there.

“If there is some way the family flag could be taken back to Cuba, then I am happy to do that,” he told the Washington Post in a rare interview. 

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and Congresswoman Kathy Castor, both Democrats, have also recently come out in favor of ending the 52-year-old embargo. Crist rival, former state Sen. Nan Rich, who is also a candidate for governor, has also endorsed the change in policy.

U.S.-Cuba relations have been at their loosest in almost two decades after President Barack Obama eased travel restrictions to the island with an executive order in January 2011. Some have speculated that additional changes in policy could encourage more market-oriented reforms that have been underway since Cuban President Raul Castro took over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008.

But the Obama administration has refrained from pushing for additional changes until Cuba improves its human rights record and releases imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross. The Maryland businessman was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011 for attempting to establish an illegal communications network on the island.

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