Hillary Clinton to call for lifting U.S.-Cuba embargo during stump speech in Miami

In her first visit to Florida as a 2016 presidential contender, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is scheduled to deliver a major policy speech on Friday in Miami in which she will call for lifting the U.S.-Cuba embargo.

Her campaign said in a press release that Clinton “will highlight that Republican arguments against increased engagement are part of failed policies of the past and contend that we must look to the future in order to advance a core set of values and interests to engage with Cubans and address human rights abuses.”

It is viewed as an effort by Clinton to draw a contrast between herself and her main GOP rivals in the presidential election as far as the pursuit of Florida voters is concerned. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, both Republican presidential contenders from South Florida, have denounced restoring ties with Cuba as long as it continues to suppress freedom of expression and punish political opposition to the Castro regime.

The Bush and Rubio camp immediately assailed her planned speech.

“She is making another grave mistake,” Rubio said in a statement. “Unilateral concessions to the Castros will only strengthen a brutal, anti-American regime 90 miles from our shore.”

“President Obama and Secretary Clinton must learn that appeasement only emboldens dictators and repressive governments, and weakens America's global standing in the 21st century," Rubio said. "As president, I will stand with the Cuban people and only support an end to the embargo that is accompanied by real democratic reform."

Bush’s campaign noted that Clinton had been opposed to normalizing relations with Cuba in the absence of any democratic reform on the island.

“Hillary Clinton was adamantly against easing restrictions with Cuba in 2000 and 2008, going so far as to confirm she would not meet with Raul Castro until there was evidence of political change,” said Emily Benavides, a spokeswoman for the Bush campaign, in a statement. “There has been no change – and this is just another example of Hillary Clinton putting political expediency ahead of doing what’s right.”

Clinton’s move is the latest in a growing push nationwide – including in Congress and the Obama administration – toward full restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States.

On Tuesday, a Minnesota congressman who traveled to Cuba in June in what he depicts as an  eye-opening trip has introduced a bill in the House that would eliminate the 55-year-old U.S. embargo on the island.

Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican who was elected last year, introduced the Cuba Trade Act of 2015, says that the measure seeks to improve life for the people of Cuba.

"I understand there's a lot of pain on both sides of this issue that goes back many decades, something that a kid from Minnesota is not going to necessarily be able to understand," USA Today quoted Emmer as saying. "But I believe this is in the best interests of the Cuban people. This isn't about the Cuban government — it's about people on the street looking for more opportunity and to improve their quality of life."

Last week, a GOP-controlled Senate panel voted to lift the decades-long ban on travel to Cuba, giving a boost to President Barack Obama's moves to ease travel restrictions and open up relations with the Castro-governed nation.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted to repeal a law prohibiting banks and other U.S. businesses from financing sales of U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.

The Obama administration issued rules in January to significantly ease travel restrictions to Cuba and allow regularly scheduled flights for the first time. The Senate Appropriations Committee 18-12 vote came just days after the U.S. and Cuba formally ended more than a half-century of estrangement by re-establishing diplomatic relations cut off during the Cold War.

Recent polls have showed that many Americans now support restoring relations with Cuba.

“Hillary’s position on Cuba predates the president’s position,” said Miami pollster Fernand Amandi, who has done polls on Cuba, in an interview with the Miami Herald. “She came out for eliminating the embargo well before new policy change announced in December last year."

"She often commented on the need to reevaluate and re-engage the issue of U.S. policy toward Cuba but always with the end goal of bringing democracy and a transition to democratic government to island.”

Among some Cuban exile groups in South Florida though, a firm opposition to breaking bread with the Cuban government remains in place.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, who is co-founder and director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and is against normalizing relations, said political officials and candidates who think they’re going to win Florida by touting a friendly approach toward the Cuban government is in for a rude awakening.

“Every single Cuban American elected anywhere in the U.S. — councilman, member of Congress, legislature, you name it — all oppose Obama’s policy,” he told the Miami Herald.

“There has never been any statewide official that supports lifting sanctions that has ever been elected in the state of Florida, including Obama who campaigned twice both times on support for the embargo. [Hillary Clinton] is being walked down a political plank on this one.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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