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Among exile elite, a shift over Cuba-US policy

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 8, 2014 at 1:37 pm •  Published: February 8, 2014

Fellow GOP representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen posted on Twitter: "Talked about #Fanjul's pathetic idea of investing in the #Castro regime while #Cubans suffer."

But U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, a Democrat and the son of Cuban exiles, said Fanjul was simply voicing the issues many Cuban-Americans wrestle with.

Since the embargo's imposition in the early 1960s, shortly after Fidel Castro's communist revolution overthrew a pro-U.S. military dictatorship, the policy has prohibited U.S. companies and citizens from conducting most trade with the island and, with some exceptions, visiting it. Until recently, politicians and business leaders who advocated for the embargo's elimination, or even loosening, incurred the wrath of the Cuban-American community, which had the money and power to make its views stick.

In 2000, a small bipartisan group of Cuban exile business leaders, including Cejas, began to rethink their position. Their ranks have grown as they've pushed for shifts in U.S. policy that, with changes in Havana, now allow hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans to visit the island annually and send money to relatives there. Travel restrictions also have been loosened, making visits easier for Americans not of Cuban descent.

Although Congress is unlikely to eliminate the embargo anytime soon, the Obama administration or its successor could go further and allow Cuba to buy U.S. imports with cash, let non-Cubans invest in businesses on the island, and ease travel even more for non-Cubans, ideas that Fanjul appears to support.

Still, South Florida's older exile community largely remained united in public, even as privately more powerbrokers began to break with the orthodoxy. Some quietly visited the island, such as during Pope Benedict XVI's 2012 trip to Cuba. Others became open to business opportunities.

In the Post interview, Fanjul said his primary desire was to reconnect with his roots. But he also seemed to be appealing to the U.S. government. Fanjul is close to former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, who is considering a White House run in 2016.

"Right now there's no way for us to consider investing in Cuba. How can you work a deal if you're not legally allowed to do it?" he told the paper. "If there's an arrangement within Cuba and the United States, and legally it can be done and there's a proper framework set up and in place, then we will look at that possibility."

He also sent a note of caution to communist leaders: "Cuba has to presumably satisfy the requirements that investors need, which are primarily a return on investment and security of the investment, so they feel comfortable with what they're doing."

Mauricio Claver-Carone, who serves on the board of the anti-Castro U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which opposes people-to-people travel, said he stills views Fanjul as an exception and suggested any move by Fanjul to do business with the island would backfire. "Alfy Fanjul needs our community more than the community needs him," Claver-Carone said.

But the PAC may still need the Fanjuls. In the past five years, the family and top employees have given the PAC more than $40,000.