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Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo Weighs In On Future Of U.S.-Cuba Relations

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Fidel Castro's death brings a new focus on Republican efforts to renegotiate President Obama's deal with Cuba. That agreement loosened economic restrictions on business and travel with Cuba after a 50-year standoff. Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo represents the Miami area. He is the son of Cuban exiles and joins us now from his office on Capitol Hill. Welcome to the program.

CARLOS CURBELO: Thank you very much, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You've accused President Obama of making what you call unilateral concessions receiving little in return. So would you like to see the existing deal scrapped and start from scratch or build on what's already there?

CURBELO: I think most of the existing deal can be done away with. There are some exceptions - for example, Cuban-Americans supporting their family members through remittances and visits to the island. I support that. I think that's a good thing. I think that helps strengthen ties between Cubans on the island and those who have fled. Anything else, which is most of this agreement, strengthens the dictatorships, strengthens the Cuban military, strengthens the Cuban intelligence services. None of that is good for the future of Cuba, and it's certainly not good for us here in the United States.

SHAPIRO: There are American businesses, airlines and others, that have profited from the opening with Cuba. Are you prepared to tell those U.S. businesses that they're going to have to give up some of the income that they've now gotten used to?

CURBELO: For those of us who live in south Florida, we've seen planes taking off to Cuba for many, many years, and almost all of those planes were flown by American airlines. The only difference now is that the airlines are making the bookings directly as opposed - through charter companies. So...

SHAPIRO: So you're saying American businesses are not profiting from the opening of relationship with Cuba?

CURBELO: Well, in the case of airlines, they've admitted that they're actually losing money every single day because a lot of those flights are half-empty. So - look, clearly America businesses are interested in opening up new markets not just in Cuba, but all over the world. However, as policy makers, our interest isn't necessarily the narrow interests of specific corporations but the national security interests of the United States. And this agreement with Cuba has really yielded very little benefits for the American people. And, by the way, it's also done very little for the Cuban people.

SHAPIRO: Although you're a Republican, you made it clear in your re-election campaign that you do not support Donald Trump. This issue of Cuba seems like one area where you and he are more or less on the same page. Is that how you see it?

CURBELO: Well, his most recent statements regarding this situation, I think, have been accurate and productive. He, for one, was willing to describe Fidel Castro as he was - a brutal dictator. So I've certainly appreciated that statement. And he has said over and over again that this negotiation was very weak and that we should strive to do better. I certainly agree with that.

SHAPIRO: Donald Trump has such wide business interests around the world, not all of which are transparent. And he has not moved to relinquish them. Do you worry that when he negotiates with a country like Cuba he might advocate for the Trump Organization's ability to, for example, open a hotel, a resort on the island rather than putting the interests of the American people first?

CURBELO: I certainly hope that he wouldn't do that. And I urge the incoming administration to do everything they possibly can to be transparent, to show that the president will have a firewall between him and all of his business interests because when he becomes president, his exclusive goal should be advancing the interests of the United States of America, not of any particular company in this country, especially not his own.

SHAPIRO: Just to conclude, can you tell us a little bit about what you're hearing from Cuban-Americans who live in your congressional district in south Florida?

CURBELO: It's certainly the lifting of a heavy psychological burden. Since I was a child, I had heard people say, you know, when Fidel Castro is gone, there will be hope for Cuba. There will be opportunity for Cuba. Cuba will be able to move towards freedom and democracy once again. That's why people were celebrating. It's very important that everyone understand this is not just about the death of one person. It's what that death represents.

SHAPIRO: Carlos Curbelo is a Republican congressman representing the Miami area. Thank you for joining us.

CURBELO: Of course. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.