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Rubio asks to investigate Puentes de Amor for alleged violations of FARA

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Cuban-American activist Carlos Lazo (left) and Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel during a meeting at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana, on June 29, 2022.

Website of the Presidency of Cuba

Floridian Senator Marco Rubio has asked the FBI to open an “immediate” investigation into Puentes de Amor, an anti-embargo group whose members recently met with Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel, to determine if he is acting as an unregistered foreign agent of the Cuban government. , according to a letter obtained by the Herald.

In the letter sent Monday, Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican, urged FBI Director Christopher Wray to investigate the members and activities of Bridges of Love, stressing that the group has “known associations with the Cuban regime.”

The Foreign Agents Registration Act imposes disclosure obligations on individuals and entities that work as “agents,” acting at the direction of foreign governments or organizations. Activities that require registration include political work intended to influence US foreign policy.

Carlos Lazo, a Spanish teacher in Seattle and the group’s founder, has received unprecedented access to Cuba’s top officials, meeting twice with Cuban ruler Miguel Díaz-Canel, in June this year and August last year. in two widely publicized visits in the island’s state media. The publicity also put the organization on the radar of Cuban-American politicians in the United States.

Rubio’s letter comes after the organization held an anti-embargo rally in Coral Gables on Sunday “as part of a coordinated effort by the Cuban regime to sow division, incite conflict, and influence U.S. foreign policy,” the report wrote. senator.

During the demonstration, the group raised flags of Fidel Castro’s July 26 movement, drawing the ire of Cuban exile activists who were organizing a counter-protest. An exile who responded by burning a July 26 flag was arrested. Another who protested his arrest was also arrested.

Lazo called the counter-protesters “hateful” in a video broadcast live on Facebook.

Rubio said the group raised the flag of the July 26 movement “in open support of the Cuban Revolution that ultimately led to the communist dictatorship that remains today.”

Díaz-Canel thanked the group for Sunday’s demonstration, which according to him showed that “Cuba is not alone.”

“The FBI should recognize the group and its members for what they are, malicious foreign participants within the United States, and conduct investigations of individuals who may be acting as foreign agents of the Cuban regime,” the senator wrote.

Lazo did not immediately respond to voice and text messages left by the Herald seeking comment.

Puentes de Amor, registered in the state of Washington as a non-profit organization in November 2020, advocates against the US “blockade”, borrowing the term used by the Cuban government to refer to the embargo. They also called on the Biden administration to remove Cuba from the list of country sponsors of terrorism.

“President Biden: Are you blind? Are you deaf? Have you lost touch with reality? I tell you that, just 90 miles from our shores, it is about suffocating, killing, eradicating a peaceful and noble people from the face of the earth,” Lazo wrote on the organization’s blog. “For more than 60 years, the United States has waged an economic war against Cuba. That war generates poverty, death and desolation in the Cuban family.”

The organization also favors the expansion of travel and remittances to Cuba and the reopening of the family reunification program, measures already taken by the Biden administration.

The group has organized small rallies and caravans across the United States to draw attention to their cause. Lazo has also brought American students to the island.

Lazo has long been a member of what the Cuban government calls the “solidarity movement” with Cuba. In 2004, while in Iraq serving as a paramedic with the National Guard, he recorded a video asking Congress to allow him to visit his two sons in Cuba, at a time when President George W. Bush had imposed severe restrictions to travel to Cuba. In 2007, the activist testified before the US Senate committee against those restrictions. At that hearing, Lazo said that he arrived in the United States in 1991 on a raft.

The Cuban government has used the organization in propaganda efforts to convince local audiences that it has support within the United States, a strategy previously followed by Fidel Castro with far-left American organizations such as Pastors for Peace.

“Most Cubans in the United States want #LoveBridges to be built and sanctions lifted,” Cuba’s presidential office tweeted after Lazo’s most recent visit.

The Cuban ruler has frequently posted on social media about the group, which has delivered humanitarian donations to the island. He has tweeted photos of his encounters with Lazo and turned the group’s name, #PuentesdeAmor, into a hashtag that has been adopted by government accounts and his Twitter followers.

The organization also received a greeting from Díaz-Canel during his speech on July 26, along with other groups that have expressed support for the Cuban government such as Alianza Martiana and Code Pink.

“What you are doing, in addition to the contribution that means in aid, in solidarity, is also an awakening of consciences, that in the end is what makes the movement stronger,” Díaz-Canel told Lazo according to a count of the most recent meeting published on the website of the presidential office.

A photo of Lazo with Emily Mendrala, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary in charge of Cuban affairs, also appeared in Cuban state media. In the image, Mendrala is seen holding one of the leaflets handed out by Lazo during a meeting in July last year containing signatures in favor of lifting US sanctions.

Rubio also tweeted at the time about the meeting, referring to Puentes de Amor as “a pro-regime front group.”

This story was originally published on August 2, 2022 2:55 p.m.

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Profile photo of Nora Gámez Torres

Nora Gámez Torres is the Cuba/US-Latin American policy reporter for el Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald. She studied journalism and media and communications in Havana and London. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from City, University of London. Her work by her has won awards by the Florida Society of News Editors and the Society for Professional Journalists.//Nora Gámez Torres studied journalism and communication in Havana and London. She has a doctorate in sociology and since 2014 she has been covering Cuban issues for the Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald. She also reports on US policy toward Latin America. Her work has been recognized with awards from the Florida Society of News Editors and the Society for Professional Journalists.

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