Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist angered two South Florida Republicans over comments on Cuba during a Friday appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.
During the interview, the former governor said he was for lifting the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. Eliminating the 52-year-old restrictions, Crist added, would be a significant economic benefit for Florida, which sits roughly 100 miles from the island nation.
Immediately afterwards, Crist released a statement clarifying his position, which is that he remains strongly opposed to lifting sanctions against Cuba.
Both Republican State Sen. Rene Garcia and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart released strong statements Sunday condemning Crist’s comments.
“As the son of Cuban exiles, who are the victims of the Castro regime’s oppression, I am deeply offended by Charlie Crist’s shameful comments,” Garcia said. “Our community has endured great pain to now have to endure Crist’s disrespectful statement.”
“The U.S embargo on Castro will not be lifted until Cubans are no longer accosted in the streets of Cuba or tortured in Castro’s gulag,” Garcia added, “until the day that Cubans can assemble without fear and a free press exists, and until the day that they can cast a ballot knowing that they will not be physically beaten or intimidated.”
“It’s an embarrassment that Crist has positioned himself on the wrong side of history at a moment when the Cuban people need the most solidarity.”
Garcia, a member of the influential Hispanic Caucus, was born and raised in the Cuban-populated City of Hialeah, where he previously served as City Councilman and State Representative.
Rep. Diaz-Balart said Crist’s call to end the decades-old trade embargo with Cuba was “repulsive.”
“Charlie Crist’s recent comments about the Cuban-American community and U.S. policy are shameful,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement reported in The Hill.
“To suggest that current law, which is a measure of solidarity, is to blame for the prolonged Castro tyranny is repulsive and only serves the interests of the Castro brothers,” he added.
Crist is a former Republican now running as a Democrat to retake his seat from incumbent GOP Gov. Rick Scott.
“The embargo has done nothing in more than 50 years to change the regime in Cuba,” Crist told CNN last week. “If we want to bring democracy to Cuba, we need to encourage American values and investment there.”
“While countless brave men and women in Cuba are being beaten and arrested for peacefully demanding freedom and democracy,” Diaz-Balart said, “Crist further insults the victims of that oppressive regime by wanting Florida business to provide it resources so that it continues its violent repression.”
President Obama loosened travel restrictions to Cuba in 2011 and recently hinted that no more easing of restrictions would happen until Cuba progresses on human-rights.