President Joe Biden invited a lobbying firm executive with ties to Haiti who has not formally worked on Cuba issues for decades to join Cuban celebrities and businesspeople for a Zoom call on protests in the communist nation Tuesday.
After a week of inaction following nationwide anti-government protests in Cuba, the Biden Administration finally acted by holding a “listening session” Zoom call featuring Gloria and Emilio Estefan, actor Andy Garcia, and several other prominent Cuban-Americans.
The virtual meeting Tuesday included former Florida Rep. Joe Garcia (D), a co-chair for a lobbying firm that represents the office of the presidency of Haiti, Politico reported in July 2021. Garcia was once the head of a prominent Cuban-American organization, but his career has taken him far from the topic, raising questions as to why he was at the top of the list of Cuban voices for Biden to reach out to.
The office of the presidency of Haiti is currently unoccupied. President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his home this month. Haiti also currently lacks a parliament and only resolved its dueling prime minister crisis on Monday.
Senior Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement Cedric Richmond, who once falsely claimed Republicans defunded the police, and Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere for the National Security Council Juan Gonzalez facilitated the call. The White House’s self-described “listening session” was held to hear “policy recommendations” and “concerns” from other Cuban-Americans like Garcia, including Gloria and Emilio Estefan, actress Carmen Pelaez, and actor Andy Garcia. Lawyers, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and former Obama Administration staffers were also on the call, according to CBS Miami.
The White House just released a "readout" on a "listening session" with Cuban American leaders. The WH did not identify who was part of the ZOOM meeting but @CBSMiami has learned the names include Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Andy Garcia, Luis Lauredo, and Carlos Saladrigas. 1/x pic.twitter.com/weJrIEBfhO
— Jim DeFede (@DeFede) July 20, 2021
As of April 2021, Garcia’s Mercury Public Affairs maintained a contract with the Haitian government, routed through Mercury International UK Ltd, the Miami Herald reported. Moïse reportedly hired the group in 2018 to repair Haiti’s image after Former President Donald Trump called the country a “shithole” during a White House meeting.
Moïse allegedly funneled money into lobbyist groups in an “effort to get positive international press as detractors accuse(d) him of trying to install a dictatorship with autocratic policies,” according to the Herald. Opponents protested the money could have gone to combating his country’s hunger crisis, rising crime and kidnappings, and rampant inflation. The U.S. State Department has accused the Haitian government of human rights abuses, including gang killings supported by unnamed officials, excessive use of force by police, arbitrary detentions, a corrupt judiciary system, violence against women, and “the worst forms of child labor.”
Moïse denied allegations of being tied to the increasingly powerful gangs controlling the country. Following his death, however, one of those gang leaders — Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier — vocally defended Moïse and accused his opposition of organizing an “international conspiracy” with Middle Eastern merchants to kill him.
Moïse took over for predecessor Michel Martelly in the aftermath of the chaotic 2015 elections as a placeholder president. He insisted that his term began in 2017, thus making him legitimate president through 2022, but faced opposition who claimed that his term had expired by this year and branded him a dictator, Breitbart News previously reported.
He was assassinated in early July with no clear successor, and parliament in Haiti’s semi-presidential republic had already collapsed before his death. Moïse’s death also catapulted the country into more political upheaval, with two people dueling for the country’s interim prime minister position.
Garcia’s ties to Cuba policy are decades old. Garcia was named executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation around 2000 — more than 20 years ago — before serving as director in the Department of Energy under the Obama Administration in 2009.
He also previously served as the first Democrat congressman for District 26 in Florida from 2013-2015, which includes a portion of Miami-Dade County. His stint as a congressman only lasted for one two-year term and was marred by the arrest of his staffer Jeffrey Garcia (no relation). Jeffrey Garcia received probation for funneling campaign money to a phony tea party candidate so he could siphon votes from a Republican rival, Politico reported.
“Joe Garcia denied any knowledge or involvement, but the FBI dug up an email indicating he might have been informed of the scheme,” according to Politico. Jeffrey Garcia was also caught in a separate absentee-ballot request fraud scheme and served 90 days in jail in 2013.
The White House call notably omitted all Cuban-American senators, former political prisoners residing in the United States, and leaders of humanitarian and human rights groups specializing in Cuban issues in Florida. In contrast, former President Donald Trump maintained ties to Cuban-American humanitarian groups and hosted victims of the Castro regime and Cuban dissident leaders with direct experiences in Cuba when he announced policy revisions toward Cuba in 2017.
The Biden Administration has noticeably struggled in its messaging about Cuba since protests sparked on the island last week in more than 40 municipalities.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki first asserted anti-government protesters were actually protesting the Chinese coronavirus pandemic before admitting “communism is a failed ideology.” Biden delayed explicitly condemning communism for several days before finally calling Cuba a “failed state.”
Since protests in Cuba began, police have opened fire on crowds and beaten people in the streets. Independent media confirmed the arrests of at least 5,000 people so far, Breitbart News reported. Current figurehead President Miguel Díaz-Canel openly called on civilians to violently attack protesters on the streets in an “order of combat” issued last week.
Biden’s move to consult celebrities comes soon after hundreds of demonstrators protested in front of the White House demanding U.S. military intervention in Cuba. The administration has reportedly been reviewing its policies toward Cuba and is considering providing humanitarian aid, though nothing has been done yet.