One of the most vocal critics of the U.S. government's warming of relations with Cuba, Mauricio Claver-Carone, was named Monday to President-elect Donald Trump's transition team, much to the pleasure of conservative Cuban American leaders in Miami.
Claver-Carone, a lobbyist and director of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC lobby group, is a strong proponent of the U.S. embargo against the communist-run island.
His appointment was seen as a signal that Trump is serious about his campaign promise to reverse the policy of engagement with Cuba initiated by President Barack Obama in December 2014.
"I hope he gets rid of everything Obama did," said Remedios Diaz-Oliver, a shipping company owner who sits on the executive committee of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC.
She criticized Obama for implementing his Cuba policy through executive orders rather than going through Congress, and said he had been too generous with the Cuban government. "Obama never got anything in return. That's not the way to negotiate," she said.
Trump was shunned by many Cuban American Republicans in Miami who backed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush during the presidential primaries. But many ended up voting for Trump out of party loyalty.
"So proud of my friend, patriot and freedom-fighter Mauricio Claver Carone. He will help make America great again!" tweeted Justin Sayfie, a former senior adviser to Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
The US-Democracy PAC describes itself as the "largest, single foreign-policy political committee in the United States" and has contributed millions of dollars to members of Congress over the last decade to prevent the embargo from being lifted.
Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba in the summer of 2015 and relaxed commercial restrictions on doing business in Cuba, as well as easing a travel ban for Americans.
In return the Cuban government released dozens of political opponents from jail, and agreed to allow a U.S. cruise line as well as a number of U.S. airlines to start operations to the island. But political and economic freedoms in Cuba remain tightly restricted by the ruling Communist Party.
Claver-Carone, was one of 12 campaign supporters, former administration officials and academics named on Monday to serve on so-called "landing teams" at key federal finance and business agencies.
The Florida-born lawyer and former adviser to the Treasury Department under George W Bush, was named as part of an advance team assigned to the Treasury Department, the executive branch tasked with enforcing financial regulations, including trade embargoes, according to The Hill.
He was one of 12 campaign supporters, former administration officials and academics named on Monday to serve on so-called "landing team" at key federal finance and business agencies.
Coming only three days after the nomination of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, advocates of engagement with Cuba sounded a pessimistic note. "Sessions and Claver-Carone are a lethal combination for Cuba policy," said one Cuban American advocate of Obama's policy.
"Absolutely everything the President has done on Cuba is now one small hand's pen stroke away from disappearing," he added.
Some Cuban-American critics of Obama's policy say Trump may feel indebted to strong Cuban exile support in Miami for his victory in Florida. However, others say the Cuban vote was fairly evenly split and Trump's win in Florida had far more to do with strong white, working class voter turnout in the suburbs.
In an opinion piece published last week in The Miami Herald, Claver-Carone said that " Obama’s new course for Cuba has made a bad situation worse."
He went on; "Political repression in Cuba is at historic highs; emigration has risen to levels not seen since the 1994 flight of rafters; violations of religious freedom have increased tenfold; and the rate of growth of the so-called “emerging private sector” (“cuentapropistas”) has turned negative."
In the opinion column he highlighted Obama's removal of a $100 cap on the import of Cuban rum and cigars for personal consumption, arguing that they were the product of local Cuban factories stolen by the Cuban government from their private owners after the 1959 Cuban revolution. "U.S. law and prior administrations had never legitimized such theft of private property, trafficking in stolen property, or support to Cuba’s state monopolies," he wrote.
He also criticized the lifting of a ban on U.S. companies from doing business with Cuban state monopolies and "regime officials,” especially those involved in the repression of political dissidents on the island.
However, he stopped short of calling for the severing of diplomatic ties.