For decades, the equation was simple: U.S. politicians of all persuasions blasted the Castro government and supported the trade embargo first imposed under President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat. Despite mostly bipartisan agreement, initial Cuban arrivals to the U.S. aligned overwhelmingly with Republicans, largely out of anger at Kennedy’s handling of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion intended to topple Castro in 1961. Yet many in that generation have died or are old, and their children and grandchildren, along with more recent Cuban immigrants, aren’t as hard line or simply don’t vote exclusively on “the Cuba question.”
A shift was already happening…
Exit polls in the 2012 election found Cuban-Americans essentially split between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, less than a decade after George W. Bush won the Cuban vote overwhelmingly. Obama has since normalized diplomatic relations with Havana, traveled to the island for a state visit and called on Congress to lift the trade embargo.
A company controlled by Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, secretly conducted business in communist Cuba during Fidel Castro’s presidency despite strict American trade bans that made such undertakings illegal, according to interviews with former Trump executives, internal company records and court filings.
Documents show that the Trump company spent a minimum of $68,000 for its 1998 foray into Cuba at a time when the corporate expenditure of even a penny in the Caribbean country was prohibited without U.S. government approval. But the company did not spend the money directly. Instead, with Trump’s knowledge, executives funneled the cash for the Cuba trip through an American consulting firm called Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corporation. Once the business consultants traveled to the island and incurred the expenses for the venture, Seven Arrows instructed senior officers with Trump’s company—then called Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts—how to make it appear legal by linking it after-the-fact to a charitable effort.
At the time, Americans traveling to Cuba had to receive specific U.S. government permission, which was only granted for an extremely limited number of purposes, such as humanitarian efforts. Neither an American nor a company based in the United States could spend any cash in Cuba; instead a foreign charity or similar sponsoring entity needed to pay all expenses, including travel. Without obtaining a license from the federal Office of Foreign Asset Control before the consultants went to Cuba, the undertaking by Trump Hotels would have been in violation of federal law, trade experts say.
The fact that Seven Arrows spent the money and then received reimbursement from Trump Hotels does not mitigate any potential corporate liability for violating the Cuban embargo. “The money that the Trump company paid to the consultant is money that a Cuban national has an interest in and was spent on an understanding it would be reimbursed,’’ Richard Matheny, chair of Goodwin’s national security and foreign trade regulation group said, based on a description of the events by Newsweek. “That would be illegal. If OFAC discovered this and found there was evidence of willful misconduct, they could have made a referral to the Department of Justice.”
Shortly after Trump Hotels reimbursed Seven Arrows, the two companies parted ways. Within months, Trump formed a presidential exploratory committee. He soon decided to seek the nomination of the Reform Party, which was founded by billionaire Ross Perot after his unsuccessful 1992 bid for the White House.
Florida matters, Cubans matter, this story could matter even though, in this election, nothing matters.
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