Charlie Crist won Florida Congressional District 13 in 2016.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist quietly traveled to Cuba April 2019 to meet with officials there amid mounting tension between the Communist island and President Donald Trump’s administration over the crisis in Venezuela.
The trip spanned April 25 through April 27, according to travel records maintained by the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics, and was not announced by Crist’s Congressional office. There are no details about it on his House website. The sponsor of the trip was the Center for Democracy in the Americas, an organization that “promotes a U.S. policy toward Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba’s sovereignty,” according to its website.
Crist said his visit focused on “advancements in US-Cuba policy and relations made during the Obama Administration, and the impact of the Trump Administration’s change in course.” The St. Petersburg Democrat was a vocal supporter of the easing of travel and business restrictions championed by President Barack Obama but pulled back after Trump took office.
“My concern is for the Cuban people and the long term security interests of the United States. As we disengage and tighten sanctions, Russia and China will enter the void,” Crist said. "For a country 90 miles off Florida’s coast, that’s not a positive development, and the Cuban people caught in the crossfire will either flee or suffer.”
But Crist’s tour of the island coincided with growing diplomatic strain between Trump and Cuban leaders over the situation in Venezuela, a country in the midst of a humanitarian and constitutional crisis. Trump’s foreign policy team and influential Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio have accused Cuba of propping up Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the country’s disputed leader. National Security Advisor John Bolton claimed there are more than 20,000 Cuban troops in South America providing security for Maduro.
Cuba vigorously denied the charges. Indeed, on the day Crist arrived in Cuba, the country’s Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla called Bolton a “pathological liar” and demanded he back up his accusations with evidence. Intelligence and diplomatic experts have also questioned Cuba’s influence in Venezuela given its own economic hardships, according to the New York Times, though the country has undoubtedly supported Maduro against calls for him to step aside.
During his stay in Cuba, Crist and Rodriguez Parrilla were photographed together in a picture published by Granma, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. Chief of Staff Austin Durrer accompanied Crist on the trip, according to U.S. House travel records.
Durrer said there was not any specific reason why Crist did not publicize his travel there. “The goal was to get a better understanding of the situation,” he said.