The 11th of July 2022 was a historic day in Cuba as hundreds of thousands across the island rose against the decades-old regime that had oppressed them. It was an almost unprecedented demonstration that marked, at least, a path of hope for those who still believe in a Cuba free of communism and authoritarianism.
The U.S. — consistent with its foreign policy — supported these Cuban protestors from almost all political sectors, mainly from the Republican Party. Many of its leaders remembered the anniversary of the protests last week by sending messages of support to the dissident Cubans. However, not all GOP politicians had that gesture with the Cuban people.
GOP Rep. Tom Emmer and Cuban Embargo
Tom Emmer (R-MN), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), has actively promoted the lifting of the Cuban embargo, opposing many of his party’s leaders.
Similarly, Emmer has also to bring Washington closer to Havana, pushing for the Cuba Trade Act of 2015 bill with Rep. Cathy Castor, a Democrat.
Unlike many of his colleagues, Emmer — despite being politically linked to Cuba — did not greet J-11 protesters in a potentially minimal gesture of courtesy. Instead, the congressman met alleged pro-Castro “lobbyists.”
“Recently, I had the chance to sit down with Care Lab to discuss their exciting new initiatives,” Emmer wrote on Twitter, accompanied by two representatives of the Care Lab project, including its founder, Sarah Stephens. Stephens has been celebrated by specific sectors for serving as a “bridge” in the relations between the U.S and Cuba. On the other hand, she has been questioned by those who believe that her work is favorable to the Castro dictatorship.
Stephens has even been labeled as a “lobbyist” by Cuban activists, such as Albert Fonse, a Cuban exile, and founder of the movement Los Mambises.
According to its Twitter bio, Care Lab is founded by the team behind Cuba Platform. This think tank seeks to bring closer and improve relations between Washington and Havana through the traditional political parties.
Care Lab describes Stephens on its home page as “a veteran leader in human rights and social justice advocacy, focused for the past 20 years on U.S. relations with Cuba.”
Stephens is well known within the Cuban American community for founding the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA), which was instrumental in bringing about the U.S.-Cuba opening in 2014 under the Obama administration.
The organization — which has nonprofit status — is not considered a lobbying group under the law. Yet, it has been very effective in bringing members of Congress to Cuba, changing their perception of the Castro regime and the trade embargo while ignoring Cuban dissidents in the process.
Therefore, the meeting of a high-ranking Republican in Congress — such is the case of Representative Emmer — with organizations accused of favoring Castroism has raised certain suspicions within the Cuban-American community in Florida.
“All these people, all these groups, parties, and all these types of lobbies that contribute to the legitimization of the Castro regime are guilty of the misery and crimes committed against the Cuban people. Because not only are they legitimizing the dictatorship, but they are giving it more resources with these rapprochement policies, similar to those developed under the Obama administration,” Luis Leonel León, journalist and Cuban exile, director of KVC MEDIA, told El American.
Rep. Tom Emmer’s office could not be reached for comment.
Secret Lobbyists of the Cuban regime?
These think tanks portray Havana as a potential ally of Washington despite its lack of geopolitical affinity and the constant outrages of the Castro regime against its population for decades. And they have reached both parties.
For example, Dean Hingson, who served as chief of staff to former Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), said Stephens changed his “typical” perception of Cuba as a communist dictatorship, according to a quote attributed to him on the Care Lab website.
In a comment to the Nuevo Herald, Manuel Gómez (Cuban American and member of the board of directors of the CDA founded by Stephens) noted that the organization brought “a lot of conservative people to Cuba and has changed their vision.”
“As much respect as I have for some dissidents in Cuba, we have different theories on the subject. We believe that the people who are going to be responsible for the change in Cuba are others, who, for the most part, are working within the system. And ultimately, it’s essential that policymakers listen to their voices and their ideas,” Stephens told the Nuevo Herald.
In the same interview, Stephens tried to make the point that the CDA is not trying to persuade representatives to vote against the embargo, but to present them before “a different range of people, ask whatever questions they want and draw their own conclusions about the effectiveness of U.S. policy.”
The Cuba Platform’s statement during the demonstrations on the island last year, where instead of condemning the brutal repression against protesters, they took the opportunity to push their proposal to lift the embargo and blame U.S. sanctions and COVID-19 for the socio-economic crisis that cripples the island for decades.
“Backdrop: The protests come at a time of mounting tension and hardship, sitting atop many decades of tremendous historic pressures and trauma. The loss of tourism, combined with other economic impacts of COVID and the increased U.S. sanctions (put in place by the Trump administration and left in effect by President Biden), have caused a significant contraction of the GDP, while currency reform has spiked inflation. Cubans are experiencing long lines and scarcity of food items and even medicine,” reads the statement.
The statement can be summed up as an attempt to wash the Castro regime’s face and remove its responsibility for the destruction of Cuba by promoting the myth of the “economic blockade,” an excuse of the apologists of Castroism that has been amply dismantled with data.
Therefore, some Cuban-American activists are concerned that a high-ranking politician in Congress like Tom Emmer, who previously tried to lift the embargo with bipartisan support, continues to be close to the organizations accused of lobbying in favor of Castroism.