Lobbyist lands in the White House

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One of the most successful advocates for a hardline U.S. position against Cuba is now in the White House.
Lobbyist Mauricio Claver-Carone is director of Western Hemisphere Affairs for the National Security Council. He works for NSC chief John Bolton, who famously – and some would say erroneously – said in 2002 that Cuba was developing biological weapons and had shared its technologies with “other rogue states.”

Mauricio Claver-Carone

How times have changed.
Under then-President Obama, NSC staffers helped forge a deal to renew diplomatic relations with Cuba. Now they want to tear it apart.
Claver-Carone is co-founder of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which raised $4,701,300 from 2004 to 2018, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
He has never been to Cuba, but has strong ties to wealthy Cuban exiles who bitterly oppose Cuba’s socialist government. Contributors to his PAC are a Who’s Who of CEOs, entrepreneurs and company presidents. They include:

  • Gus Machado. At 15, he arrived in the U.S. from Cuba. He exported used cars back to the island until political troubles between the two countries ended the business. He went on to build one of the country’s top Ford dealerships, Gus Machado Ford. He co-founded the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and is the group’s treasurer.
  • Leopoldo Fernández Pujals. He was born in Cuba in 1947. His parents were from Spain. The family sought exile in Miami in 1960. Fernández joined the Marines and fought in Vietnam. He later went to Spain and founded a pizza delivery company, Telepizza, and became one of that country’s richest men.
  • Melissa Padrón

    Remedios Díaz Oliver. A native of Cuba, she became a U.S. citizen in 1969. She has been president of All American Containers Inc. for more than 20 years, according to LinkedIn.

  • Vivian Williams. She is CEO of Cantera & Associates, an accounting firm that her great-grandfather founded in Havana in 1935. She leads the firm along with her mother, Amada Lopez Cantera.
  • Melissa Padrón. She is a Cuban-American actress who “is known for her work on Ted 2 (2015) and Rock of Ages (2012),” according to her biography.
  • Javier Garcia-Bengochea. He is a neurosurgeon in Jacksonville, Florida. In February 2017, he sued a Chinese company that is expanding the port in Santiago de Cuba. Garcia claims ownership of a commercial waterfront property that is part of the project, the lawsuit says.
  • Pedro Munilla. His father, Fernando Munilla Sr., “was one of Cuba’s premier builders” and specialized in bridge building and structural work.

Munilla’s sons now run Munilla Construction Management, or MCM.

Munilla Construction Management Board of Directors

The firm’s website states:

MCM is a family owned business and its history dates back to 1941.
“Dad demanded quality in everything,” says Jorge Munilla, president of MCM. “He insisted on quality, and that earned him a reputation for excellence.”
He spearheaded many major projects including the José Martí Monument in Havana (still Cuba’s tallest monument) and the Cuyaguateje River Bridge, which was the largest free span bridge in the Western Hemisphere when it was built in 1954. Mr. Munilla also expanded and reinforced the Malecon, Havana’s famous seawall.

Photo: MCM

Then, in 1960, Fidel Castro confiscated the firm and the Munilla family was separated.
Four of his sons, Fernando Jr., Luis, Pedro and Raul, were brought to the U.S. through the Pedro Pan airlift operation days before the Bay of Pigs invasion. They were placed in an orphanage in Ohio. The two youngest, Jorge and Juan, stayed behind with their Mother, Maria Munilla, until safe passage could be arranged. Mr. Munilla stayed, fighting for his country’s freedom, leading covert operations along with the CIA.
He was arrested 3 times and finally managed to escape the island just ahead of Castro’s henchmen. Mr. Munilla arrived in America with a change of clothes, his credentials, and a fierce determination to reunite his family. He succeeded within a year, first moving to the Northeast, and then finally settling in Miami where he resumed his career.

Off topic: MCM was the general contractor for a pedestrian bridge that collapsed in March, killing six people.
The company was also named as an acquisition target in a piece about Paul Manafort’s real estate fixer. That has a Cuba connection because MCM has government contracts for work at the Naval Station at Guantánamo.
Back on topic: Claver-Carone was born in Florida and raised in Spain. He is a lawyer and has built a career around his push to bring democracy to Cuba. See my 2011 interview with him.
He was also editor of a popular blog called Capitol Hill Cubans. His biography no longer appears on the site, but you can read it below:

About the Editor
at 9:25 AM Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Mauricio Claver-Carone is the Executive Director of Cuba Democracy Advocates in Washington, D.C., a non-partisan organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cuba.
In an independent capacity, Mauricio is a co-founder and Director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, the largest, single foreign-policy political committee in the United States and the largest Hispanic political committee in history.
He is host of the foreign policy show “From Washington Al Mundo” on Sirius-XM’s Channel 153.
Mauricio has previously served as an Attorney-Advisor for the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Prior to his work in government, he served as a Clinical Assistant Professor at The Catholic University of America’s School of Law and an Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University’s National Law Center.
A prodigious writer, Mauricio’s work has been featured in numerous publications including: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Politico, The Hill, The Georgetown Journal of International Law and the Yale Journal of International Affairs.
He has presented Congressional testimony before the Committees on Foreign Affairs, the Judiciary and Natural Resources of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Poder Magazine has recognized Mauricio as one of 20 entrepreneurs, executives, leaders and artists under 40 who are shaping the future of the U.S. and the world.
Email: CapitolHillCubans@gmail.com

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1 thought on “Lobbyist lands in the White House”

  1. The Cuba they envision that will never be.

    A Cuba in Diaz Balart’s Image or that of Today’s Miami
    by Alberto Jones
    On August 1, 1975 in Helsinki, Finland, 35 countries signed what became known as the Helsinki Human Rights Agreement. The Agreement declared, among other things, “the right to be free of governmental violations of the integrity of the person…”and “the right to enjoy civil and political liberties….” For myself and other Afro-Cubans and millions of human beings, understanding the scope and morality of this agreement was very easy.
    I was born on a hot and humid day of August 1938 in La Guira, Banes, Cuba, a community of transplanted emigrants, mainly from the English speaking Caribbean Islands and Haiti, lured to Cuba to what was billed as the “Promised Land” by the United Fruit Company, Manati Sugar Company, and others.
    In this community on the “other” side of the tracks, I learned early on that the only homes we were allowed to build were the shack-type homes with thatched roofs that defined our living quarters. Sewer, running water, electricity, schools, jobs, hospital or medical services were limited to people living on the “other” side of town.
    What we did have was a pervasive infant mortality due primarily to preventable diseases that touched the lives of every family. There were rampant pre and post partum deaths; hunger and malnutrition seen predominantly in children with their disproportionate heads and distended abdomens, overflowing with such a variety of intestinal parasites sufficient to produce our own Atlas of Parasitology. Another common landmark was the infamous gully with its putrid drainage winding through our neighborhood.
    The only schools in our community of approximately 8-10,000 people, were two or three mock-classrooms of 10-20 children in the living room of some slightly more enlightened members of our community. Two churches had what could be qualified as small schools, with approximately 40 children each. Because of our teachers’ own limited education, the level of training by those who were able to stay through the entire school program (3-4 years) was the equivalent of a low third grade.
    But this vicious cycle gets even worse if we add that living in Cuba, a Spanish speaking country, the teaching was in English and everything that was taught to us, was either pertaining to England, Ireland, or Jamaica! We learned about Admiral Nelson but nothing about Marti, we learned about Pound, Shilling and Pence, but nothing about Peso, Peseta y Centavos. We learned about the Thames river but nothing our own Rio Cauto!
    Unbelievable as it may sound today, most of the kids could not stay in school, either because their parents could not afford it or their helping hands were already required on the plantation. As a direct result of this horrendous environment, our community, and tens of similar ones dispersed through what was then the provinces of Camaguey and Oriente did not produce in 60 years a single person who had achieved a mid level or higher education. An exception was a lady who was able to complete nursing school, only because her parents had the vision and could afford to send her back to Jamaica.
    The only jobs available was in the zafra, the 4-5 months sugar harvest, which was virtually slave labor, because it was not only the lowest paying job, but it also kept the people in perennial debts: whatever income you made last year would be credited to debts incurred this year. This practice was so pervasive that thousands of workers never saw or received money, they would only receive promissory notes -VALES- from the landowners, who were often the owners of the stores. That is why, 10-12 year-old boys went off to work in the fields, while girls in the same age group became maids.
    I will be eternally grateful to my grandfather, George Jones. Pappi Georgy, as he was known, was a dignified man of enormous fortitude, respect and deep religious beliefs, who kept our family together in spite of the most difficult circumstances by instilling in us honesty and moral values. My grandfather was among the fortunate few, because, as an orderly in the United Fruit Company’s hospital, he had a year round job paying 50 cents per day.
    There were always people sitting in my backyard, waiting for Georgy to get off his job. Some suffered from diarrhea, vomiting, fever or any sort of injuries. He would cleanse their wounds or give them medication he stored in a coffin-like cabinet he kept in his bedroom. As I pieced these events together, I concluded that this honorable man, who preached values to us, was forced by the brutal society in which he lived, to steal from his workplace, in order to serve those who were deprived of the most basic means of survival.
    What can we say about the psychological trauma endured by unfortunate mothers, trapped in abusive relations, domestic violence and occasional life threatening situations without anywhere to go, forced to live this hazardous existence as the only means of feeding their hungry children.
    For these and so many other reasons, none of us had to flock to South Africa to see what Apartheid was all about. We were born, lived and many died in our own Soweto! That’s why it is so painful to us when we hear the likes of Diaz-Balart attempting to apply the content of the Human Rights Declaration to their narrow and selfish, self serving interest.
    Where were these demagogues, hypocrites and frequently active perpetrators of the terrible conditions previously described when young people were beaten, tortured, disappeared or murdered, and left by the side of the roads to rot by the military structure that they helped put in place to protect their illegal loot, stolen public funds, or immoral business practices?
    For us to have a clear picture about the real intentions and the interests that these individuals stand for, suffice to say that Diaz-Balart’s father was one of the highest ranking government official in the Batista regime while all of the above was happening, and today, both his sons, one as a State and the other as a U.S. Representative, both represent Miami, which has become one of the most politically corrupt, segregated, bankrupt, drug ravaged community in the nation. I can only wonder if the Cuba that U.S. Representative Diaz-Balart struggles fervently to recover – even at the expense of the country’s sovereignty – may well be a Cuba reconstructed in his father’s image or that of today’s Miami.

    Published in “La Alborada”, Summer of 1998

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