U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist always did like to make cozy with important people. You remember.
The Florida congressman and former governor apparently got to do both April 25 when he slipped out of Washington in secret, boarded a plane and flew with Chief of Staff Austin Durrer to Havana.
Certainly his office kept the three-day trip under 'wraps.
It was Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times who brought the story to light Wednesday.
Odd timing for such a trip. Risky even. As Contorno wrote, "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. (President Donald) Trump’s foreign policy team and influential Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio have accused Cuba of propping up Venezuelan President Nicolás 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."
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, who hung out with Crist on the island, denied the claim on the day Crist arrived, calling Bolton a "pathological liar."
Also strange is how the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA), the left-leaning organization that paid Crist's way, came to sponsor this political chameleon from St. Petersburg -- out of all the lawmakers in Washington. CDA's stated mission is to establish "a U.S. policy toward Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba's sovereignty."
Think about it. On the one hand, Crist the Obama hugger -- the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat -- was a big supporter of the former president's easing of travel and business restrictions to Cuba four years ago. But on the other hand, "he has joined most of the Florida Congressional delegation in calling for Maduro to turn over power to Interim President Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by Venezuela’s national assembly, the United States and dozens of allies as the country’s legitimate leader."
Trouble is, one thing we've learned about Crist is, if you want to know where he stands at any given moment, look at the company he keeps. The man is a master political gyro who turns on a dime. It's his gift.
We don't know exactly what he and Parrilla talked about for two or three days, but certainly he and the Cuban foreign minister look relaxed and cozy in a photograph (shown above) published by the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.
When he got home, back with American media, away from the Cuban cameras, he released a statement calling on Maduro to "step down and end the senseless killing of his own civilians, who yearn for nothing more freedom and a better tomorrow.”
Sen. Rick Scott, after reading the Times story Wednesday, was roiling like a Hawaiian volcano. "Nicolas Maduro is carrying out a genocide on his people in large part because of the support he’s receiving from the brutal Castro Regime," Scott said in a fiery press statement. "Congressman Crist ... hobnobbed with killers while the money he and any staff spent in Havana was sent to Caracas to keep Maduro and his brutal regime in power. He should immediately tell the people of Florida how much taxpayer money was spent on this trip.
"The people of Venezuela are crying out for freedom from the oppression of Maduro and his Cuban puppet-masters. We should be standing with them, not with the people oppressing them.”
Crist's clout in any diplomacy remotely related to Cuba? Pretty close to zero.
So, what did self-appointed envoy Crist, a political eunuch all his life, actually think he could accomplish? It must be something. He hasn't yet told us why he kept his trip secret.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith.
Brad Slager is a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer whose stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.