Miami-Dade County

Carlos Gimenez, commissioners call for suspension of travel between Cuba and Florida

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez urged President Donald Trump to suspend all travel between the U.S. and Cuba, citing concerns about the Cuban government’s lack of transparency, a day after Cuban officials reported the island’s first three confirmed cases of the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.

His remarks came after a Thursday press conference in Miami with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and just hours before Gimenez went home to self-isolate after an encounter with Brazilian travelers.

On Monday, Gimenez joined other dignitaries for a Miami reception with Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil. A Bolsonaro aide at the event, press secretary Fabio Wajngarten, was later diagnosed with COVID-19, according to press reports.

“I don’t believe anything the Cuban government says. So I think there’s a heck of a lot more coronavirus going around Cuba right now,” said the Cuban-born mayor, who is running in the Republican primary to challenge freshman Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in Florida’s 26th congressional district.

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Brazil has more than 70 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 930 suspected cases. Gimenez did not call for cancellation of flights from countries other than Cuba.

The World Health Organization declared the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has swept into at least 114 countries and killed more than 4,000 people, a pandemic Wednesday.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Health released Wednesday, all three of the Cuban cases are Italian tourists who arrived on a flight to the Havana airport on March 9 and then developed symptoms, which include a runny nose, sore throat, cough and fever. A fourth Italian tested negative.

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The three were isolated in a Havana hospital.

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On Tuesday, two Miami-Dade commissioners — Esteban Bovo and Rebeca Sosa — introduced a resolution asking the Federal Aviation Administration to prohibit travel to and from Cuba.

The document points to the strong trade and diplomatic relations between China, where the new virus originated, and Cuba, and says Cuba’s proximity to South Florida “makes such relations especially concerning.”

“Given the rogue nature of these two governments, which are known for not being forthcoming with certain information, we must be on special alert and take all preventive steps,” the motion reads.

The Miami-Dade County Commission is set to vote on it next Tuesday. If passed, it would direct the county’s federal lobbyists to push for the measure.

When reached for comment Tuesday, Bovo’s team backtracked, instead of embracing the legislation.

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Alessa Torres, legislative director for Bovo, said the commissioner had proposed the legislation before the coronavirus began its wide global spread. The idea was to target Cuba because of its “secretive nature” as a coronavirus risk.

Now, she said, Bovo is open to changing the resolution to a “broad statement” on travel restrictions from other countries, she said.

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