After Democrat Charlie Crist said he wanted to go to Cuba, Gov. Rick Scott condemned the move.
“When spends money there, he’s helping the Castro regime,” Scott said recently in Miami.
But more people, business leaders and politicians are heading to Cuba these days – including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a consulting company that, over the past decade, has done $368,000 worth of web services for Scott, top Republican lawmakers and the Republican Party of Florida over the past decade.
“It was the trip of a lifetime, and we can’t wait to go back,” Sandi Poreda, senior public relations specialist at Taproot Creative wrote on its blog May 8, the day after Scott criticized his opponent's Cuba-travel plans.
Florida Democrats drew attention to Poreda’s blog and how it mirrored some of Crist’s justifications for wanting to go in stating “Any good researcher knows that seeing something for yourself is better than hearing someone else tell you about it.”
“Very interesting to read that a Republican-led firm that does extensive work for the RPOF and Rick Scott has this to say about their trip to Cuba- "It was the trip of a lifetime, and we can’t wait to go back,’” Christian Ulvert, Florida Democratic Party political director wrote on Facebook.
“What does Rick Scott have to say about this?"
Scott’s campaign nd the Republican Party of Florida pointed out that Taproot no longer works for the governor’s campaign or the party. Scott’s political committee paid the Tallahassee-based firm $2,575 in 2013. RPOF paid it just $912
And Scott's former campaign co-finance chairman, Coral Gables billionaire Mike Fernandez, joined other business and Hispanic leaders in signing an open letter to President Obama calling for fewer limitiations on travel and cash-remittances to Cuba.
Scott’s campaign didn't discuss that or weigh in on the latest controversy over Cuba travel that involves one of the party’s biggest boosters: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which also plans to visit Cuba.
One high-profile chamber ally, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, criticized the business group’s decision.
“The Chamber’s trip is misguided and fraught with peril of becoming a propaganda coup for the Castro regime – to the detriment of America’s strategic interest in protecting human rights around the world, as well as the Cuban people,” Rubio wrote.
But – as the chamber, Taproot and Crist indicate --- U.S. and Florida public opinion has increasingly soured on the 53-year-old embargo and travel restrictions.
More cash – as much as $3 billion – and U.S. visitors are going to Cuba than ever before.
In the first three months of this year, a study found that more U.S. tourists went to Cuba than in all of 2013 from England, Germany or France, the Associated Press reported.
That’s about 173,550 Cuba-bound U.S. travellers from January through March compared to 149,515 from England, 115,984 from Germany and 96,640 from France in 2013, the AP said. Canada has the most visitors overall, but U.S. visitors have been increasing for the past seven.
The travel – and especially the cash remittances – have undermined the embargo and led supporters of sanctions to lament that Cuban exiles are propping up the regime by spending so much money there.
Meantime, the Cuban political elite live in “a rarefied world high above the impoverished masses,” City Journal reported in a recent must-read piece that gives a glimpse of life beyond the Potemkin Village façade of Havana’s tourist district.
“Outside its small tourist sector, the rest of the city looks as though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami. Roofs have collapsed. Walls are splitting apart. Window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished. It’s eerily dark at night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic. I walked for miles through an enormous swath of destruction without seeing a single tourist. Most foreigners don’t know that this other Havana exists, though it makes up most of the city—tourist buses avoid it, as do taxis arriving from the airport. It is filled with people struggling to eke out a life in the ruins,” City Journal wrote.
In its blog post about traveling to Cuba, Taproot’s Poreda repeatedly acknowledged the failures of Communism but it didn’t travel into the city’s more-forbidden areas.
“Our blog speaks for itself on why we went and what we learned,” Poreda wrote by email. “It's unfortunate that people are trying to pull us into a political tug of war over the issue - we don't have any skin in the upcoming election, nor was our trip politically motivated.”