Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida commended his party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, for the hardline stance on Cuba he took this weekend while in Miami.
The Republican lawmaker called Trump’s comments a “stark contrast to [Democratic presidential nominee Hillary] Clinton's foolhardy stance” and added that the U.S. needs “a president who once again will stand with the Cuban people instead of emboldening and enriching their oppressors."
"I commend Donald Trump for firmly stating his commitment today to reverse President Obama's capitulations to the Castro regime,” Diaz Balart said in a statement. “He rightly stated that the promotion of basic rights and freedoms, to include the liberation of political prisoners, must form the foundation of U.S.-Cuba policy. His comments are in stark contrast to Secretary Clinton's foolhardy stance. As we learned with Russia, you cannot simply hit a 'reset' button with Cuba.”
While campaigning over the weekend in South Florida, which has a large Cuban-American population, Trump said that if he's elected president, he will reverse Obama's efforts to normalize relations with Cuba — unless the country abides by certain "demands." Among those, he said, would be religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of all political prisoners.
The GOP nominee said he'll "stand with the Cuban people in their fight against communist oppression."
The comment marks yet another reversal for the GOP candidate, who previously said he supported the idea of normalized relations, but wished the U.S. had negotiated a better deal. South Florida is home to a sizeable, if aging, population of Cuban-Americans who for decades have been a political force in the area and who favor a hardliner stance to the Castro regime in Cuba.
“Trump realizes that this is a key vote and he can’t just rely on the white, Anglo Saxon vote to win Florida,” Evelyn Pérez-Verdia, an analyst with Florida’s Political Pasión, told Fox News Latino. “He’s really trying to connect with the Cuban-American voters in Florida.”
Trump also said the U.S. has a broader obligation to stand with oppressed people — a comment that seems at odds with his "America first" mantra. "The next president of the United States must stand in solidarity with all people oppressed in our hemisphere, and we will stand with oppressed people, and there are many," he said.
Diaz Balart’s endorsement of Trump’s proposed policy shows not only his willingness to throw his support behind Trump, but how important a strong stance on U.S.-Cuban relations is to the Florida lawmaker even as many Hispanics across the state still seethe at Trump’s bid for president.
“Cuba is one of the strongest issues for Diaz Balart,” Pérez Verdia said.
The Florida lawmaker’s comments, however, are vastly different from those of his fellow South Florida politicians.
Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has for months been a critic of Trump, saying she is upset that Trump "started his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists." She said that she has no plans to vote for either Trump or Clinton, but instead will write in a vote for Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who failed in his bid to become this year’s Republican nominee.
"I think I'll write in the name Jeb Bush," the Miami Republican told the Miami Herald editorial board in August. "A candidate should espouse optimism."
Carlos Curbelo, who along with Diaz Balart and Ros-Lehtinen make up a trio of Cuban-American lawmakers from Miami in the House, has been even more outspoken in his disdain for Trump.
The freshman lawmaker has proposed the theory that Trump might be a ringer for Clinton and sent a cease-and-desist letter in August to a new political action committee that allegedly posited that Curbelo was supporting Trump.
Pérez-Verdia said that for both Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo it would be a very risky political move to support Trump’s presidential bid at this stage, given the competitiveness and the Hispanic makeup of both their districts.
“It’s not convenient for them if they want to get reelected to support Donald Trump,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.