New York Times (Florida)
By Jeremy Peters
October 1, 2016
As the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump teeters on a razor’s edge in Florida, their campaigns are scuffling over business that Mr. Trump may have conducted in Cuba while American companies were barred from operating there.
The issue has already started to percolate among the state’s large Cuban-American population and could have the potential to undo some of the progress that Mr. Trump — a pariah to many Hispanics — had been making there.
The revelations come as both sides are dumping considerable resources and time into the state, which is seen as critical to Mr. Trump’s hopes of winning the White House. Mr. Trump visited the Little Havana section of Miami this week. Mrs. Clinton just began running a Spanish-language television ad in Florida that attacks Mr. Trump on immigration and includes a 19-year-old Cuban-American saying that he will vote for her. In an attempt to further bolster Mrs. Clinton, her campaign announced on Friday that President Obama would visit Miami next week on her behalf.
The report that Mr. Trump’s corporation spent $68,000 on a 1998 trip to explore business opportunities in Cuba fit neatly into a line of attack the Clinton campaign has been pursuing recently. During the first presidential debate on Monday, and as she travels the country talking to voters, Mrs. Clinton has been arguing that, throughout his career, Mr. Trump has continually put his own interests above everyone else’s — whether the small contractors he has refused to pay or the taxes she says he still owes the federal government.
For his part, Mr. Trump denied trying to invest in Cuba, telling a New Hampshire television station on Thursday, “I was not involved in doing business in Cuba.” Whatever the purpose of the $68,000 trip was, Mr. Trump said his companies never entered into any agreement to do business on the island.
The question of whether Mr. Trump sought business opportunities in Fidel Castro’s Cuba is explosive not only because of how loathed the Castro government is among Cuban-Americans in the Miami area, but also because Mr. Trump has taken such a hard line against the Obama administration’s policy of normalizing relations with the island nation.
As far back as 1999, in public at least, Mr. Trump called efforts to restore relations with Cuba “pure lunacy.”
As a sign of just how damaging Democrats believe the news could be for Mr. Trump, Mrs. Clinton wasted little time jumping on the article when Newsweek published it late this past week. The day the piece appeared, Mrs. Clinton addressed it from her campaign plane, saying that it fit a pattern of Mr. Trump’s poor judgment.
“This adds to the long list of actions and statements that raise doubts about his temperament and qualification to be president and commander in chief,” she said on Thursday.
The news media in South Florida has been especially fixated on the report, with Spanish-language broadcasts running story after story headlined “Cuba Connection” and “Embargo Violation?”
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, asked about the report at a news conference on Friday in Miami, said that while he was concerned, he was still waiting to learn all of the facts.
“The article makes some pretty serious accusations that deserve a response,” Mr. Rubio said, “but I’m not going to base my opinion or make a statement on the basis of an article — one article by one journalist alone without more information available to me.”
Though the Cuban vote has been historically Republican, the political allegiances of younger Cubans have been shifting, making the group far less reliable for Republican candidates than it used to be. According to the Pew Research Center, less than half of Cuban-American registered voters nationwide — 47 percent — say they identify with or lean toward the Republican Party. A decade ago, nearly two-thirds of them did.
Mr. Trump’s allies in Florida have dismissed the Newsweek report. His campaign chairman in Miami-Dade County, Lorenzo Palomares, told the Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Americas that the article was a political ad “paid for by Hillary Clinton.”
But the Clinton campaign has been relentless in trying to keep the story alive. After Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, appeared on “The View” and seemed not to know much of the details of the $68,000 — “I think they paid money, as I understand from the story, they paid money in 1998,” she said — the Clinton campaign took that as an admission of guilt.
Jake Sullivan, Mrs. Clinton’s senior policy adviser, issued a statement that accused Mr. Trump of lying about his real intentions in Cuba.
“Trump’s business with Cuba appears to have broken the law, flouted U.S. foreign policy, and is in complete contradiction to Trump’s own repeated, public statements that he had been offered opportunities to invest in Cuba but passed them up,” Mr. Sullivan said.
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