By Nancy Smith
Donald Trump supporters can disparage many of the meritless, petty attacks on their candidate, from the so-called “Star of David scandal” to the holes-in-Melania-Trump’s-immigration story. I don’t blame them. I disparage them, too. But I must tell you this: If Trump secretly conducted business in communist Cuba while Fidel Castro was its president, the Republican presidential nominee should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, not elected to the highest office in the land.
Prosecution isn’t going to happen, apparently. It doesn’t matter that it’s been illegal since the Kennedy administration to spend money in Cuba without proper authorization, the statute of limitations ran out some time ago on prosecuting Trump, his company, or any of its executives. He’s off the hook.
This latest revelation just lost Donald Trump my vote. Not that he ever had it. And not that he cares. But here I was, still waiting to hear a single sensible plan on any major issue, see if he might — somehow, by some miracle of God — develop statesmanship skills and a presidential demeanor. I was waiting to hear him tell the truth on something,anything, about himself. But today I am officially off the fence.
His actions over Cuba, and his failure so far to admit what he did, render him indefensible.
When challenged about his companies’ bankruptcies, Trump continues to shrug and boast that he did nothing wrong. “I only use the laws of the land to protect my business interests,” he says.
However harmful his four bankruptcies were to the small businesses they left suffering and broken, even I had to admit he was right: every business bankruptcy followed the letter of the law.
But this time is altogether different. He broke the Cuban trade embargo. He flat-out broke the law. According to a very thorough Newsweek investigation, documents show the Trump company spent a minimum of $68,000 for its 1998 foray into Cuba at a time when the corporate expenditure of even a penny in the Caribbean country was prohibited without U.S. government approval.
Oh, his company didn’t spend the money directly. That’s how you know what a deliberate and sneaky operation it was. “Instead, with Trump’s knowledge, executives funneled the cash for the Cuba trip through an American consulting firm called Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corporation,” writes Newsweek. “Once the business consultants traveled to the island and incurred the expenses for the venture, Seven Arrows instructed senior officers with Trump’s company — then called Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts — how to make it appear legal by linking it after-the-fact to a charitable effort.”
The payment by Trump Hotels came just before Trump launched his first bid for the White House. He wanted the nomination of the Reform Party, you may recall. On his first day of the campaign, he traveled to Miami where he spoke to a group of Cuban-Americans. Trump vowed to maintain the embargo and never spend his or his companies’ money in Cuba until Fidel Castro was removed from power.
Yes, he said that, at a luncheon hosted by the Cuban American National Foundation, an organization of Cuban exiles. Want to see hypocrisy? Have a look at the videohere.
“As you know — and the people in this room know better than anyone — putting money and investing money in Cuba right now doesn’t go to the people of Cuba,’’ Trump told the crowd. “It goes into the pockets of Fidel Castro. He’s a murderer, he’s a killer, he’s a bad guy in every respect, and, frankly, the embargo must stand if for no other reason than, if it does stand, he will come down.”
He was lying like a puddle on the floor.
He put his own business/personal interests ahead of America’s.
He was trying to make up for a company that piled up losses for years. Quoting from the company’s financial filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Newsweek wrote, “In 1998 alone, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts lost $39.7 million.” He wanted to strike a deal in Cuba, so with Trump’s knowledge, executives funneled cash for the Cuba trip through an American consulting firm called Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corporation. Once the business consultants traveled to the island and incurred the expenses for the venture, Seven Arrows instructed senior officers with Trump’s company how to make it appear legal by linking it after-the-fact to a charitable effort.
Neither he nor his executives nor his surrogates made even a phony link to a “charitable effort.” They flouted the law instead, calculating the low risk of getting caught versus the high reward of lining up Cuban allies if the U.S. loosened or dropped the embargo, as President Bill Clinton wanted to do at the time.
I repeat: America’s strict trade bans made Trump’s undertaking illegal. Period. There is no other side of this story.
I can justify my exposure of anti-Trump bias among the mainstream media generally, because indeed, coverage of the 2016 presidential race isn’t playing out on a level field. But today I feel I owe Sunshine State News readers transparency, and I want them to know where I stand, what brought me to this point and why I now question the patriotism, let alone the character, of Donald J. Trump.
Over the years, I might not have agreed with every piece of the agenda Republicans put out there. But I always believed my party at least ran a candidate for president whose principles were beyond reproach. Until now. And I’m sorry. Not just for me, but for us all.
Maybe Trump can’t be prosecuted. But I have a feeling his Cuban-American supporters will have an even harder time than I did gagging on this Cuba lie. If they rise up to help defeat him in Florida in November, who can blame them?
Nancy Smith is the editor of Sunshine State News. She started her career at the Daily Mirror and The Observer in London before spending 28 years at The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News as managing editor and associate editor. She was president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in the mid-1990s. Reach her by email here, or follow her on twitter at @NancyLBSmith.