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Pacs for and against Cuba embargo bring in big money

A man passes an anti-embargo billboard in Havana that reads in Spanish “Blockade: The longest genocide in history.” Cuba has insisted that the embargo must be lifted before the United States and Cuba can have normal relations.
A man passes an anti-embargo billboard in Havana that reads in Spanish “Blockade: The longest genocide in history.” Cuba has insisted that the embargo must be lifted before the United States and Cuba can have normal relations. AP

The New Cuba PAC, a political action committee that supports federal candidates who favor lifting the trade embargo against Cuba, raised nearly $350,000 in the seven months since its founding last May.

“Our historic fund-raising haul firmly establishes the New Cuba PAC as a force to be reckoned with in Washington. It shows unprecedented support from Americans in South Florida and across our country who want our representatives to modernize our outdated policies toward Cuba and lift the embargo once and for all,” said Ric Herrero, co-director of the PAC.

Checks continued to come in during the first week of January and now the Washington-based PAC has raised considerably more than the $350,000, said James Williams, co-director of the non-partisan political action committee.

“As we enter 2016, we will do all that we can to support candidates and elected officials working towards ending the embargo, which will ultimately benefit both U.S. citizens and the Cuban people,” Williams said.

Among the contributors to the PAC, he said, are: healthcare magnate Mike Fernandez, top donor to Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush; Carlos Gutierrez, former secretary of commerce in the George W. Bush administration; the Marriott PAC; Pat Riley, president of the Miami Heat, and Miami area businessmen Manny Medina, Joe Arriola and Paul Cejas.

Fernandez, Gutierrez, Public Health Trust Chairman Arriola, and tech entrepreneur Medina were among the 10 signatories of an open letter published in December in the Miami Herald that called the embargo ineffective and urged engagement with Cubans on the island.

“We have arrived at the point in our lives where we have no interest in personal advancement, but only in what would be good for ‘nuestra gente,’” [our people], they said in the letter, which followed a trip to Cuba by the group. They lauded entrepreneurs they met on the island and said “we saw progress beyond what we could have imagined.”

Williams said the success of the PAC’s fund-raising efforts is “further proof that Americans from across the political and economic spectrum are continuing to unite in their support for normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations.”

The Hialeah-based U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, whose mission is to promote a transition to a multi-party democracy, the rule of law and a free-market system in Cuba, also has been busy raising funds. In its mid-year 2015 filing with the Federal Election Commission, it reported contributions of $214,322.40.

The report for the full year hasn’t been filed yet, but Mauricio Claver-Carone, a co-founder of the PAC, said that last year it raised more than $350,000 and has raised $4.3 million since its inception in 2004, making it the largest single foreign policy PAC in the country. The new report will show that “contributions came from hundreds of Cuban-Americans, as opposed to just a handful of wealthy donors and corporate PACs,” he said.

The PAC made more than $350,000 in political contributions last year and still has more than $200,000 in cash on hand, said Claver-Carone.

The anti-Castro PAC says its mission will continue until all Cuban political prisoners are freed, human and civil rights are respected in Cuba, and there is a democratic transition on the island.

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