NAPLES — The Cuba travel ban is an emotionally charged subject in South Florida, and an unavoidable one for politicians.
U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, released a statement Monday opposing legislation to lift that travel ban. It is scheduled for a hearing this week in the House foreign affairs committee.
Mack said he isn’t opposed to changing the U.S. policy toward Cuba, as long as the government meets some key requirements first: Freeing political prisoners, ending human rights violations, holding free elections and allowing freedom of the press.
He spoke about Cuba and other topics during a meeting Monday with the Naples Daily News editorial board.
“There is this feeling that if we were to open up trade and travel to Cuba that there would be this huge wave that would come in, overtake the economy,” he said.
Everything in Cuba is controlled by the Castro brothers, Mack argued, and that wave of change wouldn’t happen because people only have access to what the Castro brothers give them access to.
Mack said he felt that Fidel Castro’s recent statements about the condition of the Cuban economy were actually a signal to his brother, Raul Castro, that he recognizes that it is a failed system and things might change after his death.
James Roach, Mack’s Democratic challenger for the District 14 seat on the Nov. 2 ballot, also said that certain conditions would have to be met before negotiation with Cuba could begin.
“I would be for continued negotiations as long as we understood and they understood that we expect them to honor some of the property rights and certainly some of the political rights of their own citizens,” Roach said when contacted by phone later Monday. “... But I strongly think we need to keep moving forward because we can’t stay mad at them forever.”
Roach mentioned human rights violations and political prisoners, as well as the restoration of property that was taken from people by the government at the time of the revolution. Many of those people are now American citizens.
“If we’re going to have free trade, then it should be more with the businesses in Cuba and less with the government in Cuba,” he said.
He also emphasized that while it’s important for Congress to play a role in these kind of decisions, the State Department should take the lead, because it has the experts in how a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba might affect relationships with other countries in the region.
Earlier Monday, Mack also addressed the Marco Island Police Foundation and discussed his stand on Arizona’s immigration law.
The bill, he said, pits one group of Americans against another.
“You can be an American citizen in Arizona and not look like me and not look like most of the people in this room and be stopped and asked for your papers,” Mack said. “Florida will get an immigration bill, but it won’t single out a group because they look different.”
His stance isn’t to get votes, he said.
“Less than 2 percent of my congressional district is minority ... so for me, this is about freedom,” Mack said.