Monthly Archives: December 2015

Silvia Iriondo: We are not “fellow” Cuban exiles

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The Miami Herald Letters to the Editor

It is with great interest that I read the Dec. 20 full-page ad, An open letter to our fellow Cuban-Americans, which was paid for by Miguel “Mike” Fernandez and Carlos Gutierrez. In it, 10 members of the Miami community share personal experiences stemming from their recent visits to Cuba in order to, in their own words, “confront the myths that can only persist in the absence of first-hand knowledge.”

With all due respect, where have they been these past 56 years? If they are part of our community, they must have felt the pain of thousands of Cubans who were victims of arbitrary human rights’ violations by a regime intent on maintaining its grip on power via repression and terror.

If they’re part of our community, they must have heard about the extrajudicial killings of freedom-loving Cuban pro-democracy activists by the Castro regime.

If they’re part of our community, they must have witnessed men, women and children desperately trying to escape the island and risking their lives in order to provide a better future for their children.

If they’re part of our community, they must have had the opportunity to talk with former Cuban political prisoners who experienced the brunt of totalitarianism and live within our midst and to hear the suffering of Cuban families. They must have seen the images of Castro’s thugs beating defenseless women of the Ladies in White who march every Sunday to call for the liberation of Cuban political prisoners.

These are not myths. These are not things of the past, but of the present. While they travel for a brief time to allegedly see with their own eyes what they want to see, they conveniently turn a blind eye to the suffering of Cubans who live there and possess first-hand knowledge.

These gentlemen are not my fellow Cuban Americans.

Sylvia G. Iriondo, president, Mothers & Women against Repression, Miami

Proof That Obama Was Wrong About Cuba

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 “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

By Mike Gonzalez The Daily Signal

These stirring words came in President Barack Obama’s first inaugural address. It’s taken seven years to make clear they were utterly meaningless.

The right side of history is whatever side the president is on, and America’s enemies don’t need to stop punching dissidents with clenched fists to get a hug.

Exhibit A to prove this is, again, the little state of Cuba, 90 miles from U.S. shores.

Antonio Rodiles, who is the leader of the Cuban democratic movement, was re-arrested for “disorderly conduct” on Sunday for speaking his mind in the open.

Rodiles was just here last week in Washington, D.C. (he was interviewed by The Daily Signal), and had high-profile meetings with members of Congress and at the State Department.

Meanwhile, the country’s dictator, Raúl Castro, donned this military uniform for an unannounced TV appearance last Friday to denounce the United States and make more demands.

Yes, demands.

Rodiles, and other pro-democracy activists, have said all along that Obama’s decision to grant the Castro regime recognition a year ago would prove to be a costly mistake for Cubans.

By extracting no conditions in exchange for relations, Obama has allowed Castro to act with impunity with his opponents.
Cuban security personnel detain a member of the Ladies in White group after their weekly anti-government protest march, in Havana September 13, 2015. (Photo: Enrique De La Osa/Reuters/Newscom)

Cuban security personnel detain a member of the Ladies in White group after their weekly anti-government protest march, in Havana September 13, 2015. (Photo: Enrique De La Osa/Reuters/Newscom)

He hasn’t been wrong, as Rodiles himself can physically attest, as he was beaten up during an arrest back in July. According to dissidents, political detentions are at a documented total of 7,686 through the first 11 months this year, set to break the worst year on record: 2014, with 8,899 arrests.

It’s a message Rodiles took to Congress last week in meetings with Reps. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va.; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.; Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.; and Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla. (who all are of Cuban origin), as well as in the State Department, where he met, among others, with Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson.

These meetings took place on Dec. 17, which was of symbolic importance, as it was the one-year anniversary of Obama’s announcement that the United States would stop shunning the Castros and would instead extend the hand of friendship.

The meetings earned Rodiles more wrath from Castro’s regime. Back in Havana on Sunday, he attempted to march with a dissident group of about 60 after Mass, when he and the others were rounded up and sent to prison.

“We were met with the same repression and the same violence,” he told me on the phone from Havana after spending more than five hours in prison. The difference this time is that he was fined and charged with “desorden público.” When they have done this in years past, it has meant that the regime is about to take away his passport.

“It had everything to do with the meetings I had in Washington,” he told me. “They were very upset.” The dissidents suffered other depredations.

One of them, Lourdes Esquivel, a woman in her 50s, was kept for hours in a jail with a naked man, Rodiles told me. The thugs who arrested them also took their money away. When the leader of the group, Berta Soler, returned to prison on Monday to get her money back, authorities re-arrested her. She was still behind bars Monday at noon.

“Things are going to get even worse,” he told me at the end of our talk.

Things are going to get even worse.

And on Friday, Castro took to the airwaves again, this time wearing the uniform of general, to make demands: “During this year we have not advanced to resolve the issues that are essential if Cuba is to have normal relations with the United States.”

Among the demands are ending U.S. broadcasts to Cuba (the only break in the Communist news monopoly in Cuba) ending the trade embargo, and the handover of the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay to the Castros.

In an interview with Yahoo News, Obama last week eerily left open the possibility that this might happen. “There’s no doubt they’d love to have Guantánamo back,” Obama said. “And I suspect that will be a long, diplomatic discussion that will outlast my administration.”

Then again, he also seriously misjudged Castro, saying, “I do see in him a big streak of pragmatism. In that sense, I don’t think he is an ideologue.”

Tell that to Rodiles, Soler, and Esquivel.

Cuba One Year After Obama’s Overtures

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Thousands of political arrests, migrants flee, and Russia wants in. Sound familiar?

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

This month marks the first anniversary of President Obama’s unilateral rapprochement with Cuba. Upon making the Dec. 17 announcement, the Obama administration immediately moved to ease restrictions on American travel to the island and, by extension, boost revenues for the owners of its tourist industry: the Cuban military.

In May the U.S. removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, even though the dictator Gen.  Raúl Castro harbors known terrorists, including the U.S. fugitive  Joanne Chesimard, once a member of the now defunct Black Liberation Army and a convicted cop-killer.

In August the U.S. reopened an embassy in Havana. Last week it announced a bilateral agreement to restore direct flights between the U.S. and Cuba.

Cuba’s dissidents have been hard hit. Days after the new U.S. policy was announced,  Danilo Maldonado, the Cuban performance artist known as El Sexto, was arrested for mocking the Castros. He spent 10 months in jail, and Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience.

The Havana-based Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation documented 7,686 political arrests in 2015 through Nov. 30. On that day Mr. Maldonado summarized the effects of the Obama détente: “There have been no positive changes. The U.S. has given away too much at the normalization talks, and that has let Cuba continue its repression.”

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, echoes those sentiments. “I was particularly shocked,” he said last week, “that a number of people, including members of the Ladies in White,” a dissident group, “were arrested on Human Rights Day, on 10 December. This shows an extraordinary disdain for the importance of human rights on the part of the Cuban authorities.”

In 2014 Cuba passed a new foreign-investment law to boost capital inflows. Yet the government retained the power to confiscate assets for “public” or “social” ends, and it has gained a reputation for arbitrarily jailing foreign businessmen. Writing in the fall 2015 issue of World Affairs,  José Azel, a senior scholar at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, noted that despite the investment law’s “vaulting language, more than a year later only a handful of investments have been approved.”

Perhaps capitalists are not all that important when Russia is itching to get back into Cuba in a big way. In 2014 Russian President  Vladimir Putin forgave $32 billion in Cuban debt to the Soviet Union. Then he converted the remaining $3.5 billion due Moscow into a line of credit for energy and industrial projects on the island.

In return, among other things, the Kremlin gets to use Cuba to establish a station supporting Russia’s global navigation satellite system (Glonass), a rival to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). In a Nov. 17 website post for the Cuban Transition Project at the University of Miami, research associate  Hans de Salas-del Valle observed that “the installation of a signals facility in Cuba is part of a broader strategy to integrate Cuba into Russia’s space program.” He added that “Moscow has publicly expressed interest in establishing a satellite launch site in Cuba.”

Mr. Obama agrees with Raúl that the U.S. should lift the embargo. But Cuba can already buy food and medicine from the U.S. and, practically speaking, there are few limits on American travel, though such travel is disguised as “cultural exchange.” What’s left of the embargo is a ban on access to bank credit, and legal claims for almost $8 billion in property stolen by the revolution.

The Castros have a solution to the latter. They claim the embargo cost Cuba over $100 billion since 1959, so the U.S. actually owes them.

That’s laughable. What’s not so funny is Cuba’s credit score. Even after the Russian write-down, Havana is still in arrears to the rest of the world—ex-U.S.—on some $85 billion of debt. Countries are not lining up to lend more. The Castros need a new mark. That’s where Mr. Obama comes in.

Cuba’s economy, heavily dependent on Venezuelan oil and China aid, is unable to support the nation. According to Mr. de Salas-del Valle, “the assumption that economic engagement with the Castro regime will spare the U.S. an immigration crisis across the Florida Straits appears to be the underlying if unstated motivation for the White House’s unprecedented courtship of Raúl Castro.” If so, it’s a gross miscalculation. The policy has emboldened the dictator.

Some 4,000 Cuban migrants trying to get to the U.S. are now trapped in Costa Rica because Nicaraguan President  Daniel Ortega, a Castro pal, will not allow them to move north. They’re fleeing tyranny for sure. But they couldn’t have arrived there without, at a minimum, the tacit approval of the Castro regime.

Those refugees are being used as Castro pawns to create a humanitarian crisis and pressure the U.S. for credit and multilateral aid. Havana is betting Mr. Obama will deliver.

A warning to America from a Cuban dissident

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Washington Post Editorial

When President Obama began the opening to Cuba a year ago, one of the arguments the White House advanced was that a full-fledged embassy in Havana would give U.S. diplomats more freedom to roam the island than was the case with the constricted “interests section” that existed earlier. The administration emphasized that expanded “people-to-people” contacts, including with Cuban dissidents and human rights activists, would be an important outcome of the thaw.

Antonio G. Rodiles, one of many Cubans who have suffered harassment, arrest and beatings for speaking out, heard those promises, but, in an interview at The Post this week, he expressed deep disappointment that it has not happened. Rather than more contact, he said, he has seen U.S. diplomats less than before and suggested the reason: The United States has made Raúl Castro and the Cuban regime its chief interlocutor. Concern about human rights, long a mainstay of U.S. policy toward Cuba, has been “sidelined,” he lamented. Cuba’s fractious opposition feels left out in the cold.

In the same week that Mr. Rodiles described this situation, Mr. Obama suggested in an interview with Yahoo News that he would go to Cuba before he leaves office only if he could “talk to everybody.” He added, “I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.” That’s a nice gesture, but it does not change the reality for most Cubans who live under Castro’s dictatorship.

Mr. Obama has counseled that change in Cuba will take time, and “normalization will be a long journey.” Certainly, both Raúl and Fidel Castro, who have ruled the island for a half-century, are in their twilight years. But Mr. Rodiles made the sobering argument that the Castro brothers are girding themselves against embarking upon Mr. Obama’s journey. They are preparing to perpetuate the regime by passing the baton of power to Raúl Castro’s son and son-in-law; they show no sign that their henchmen will stop using violence and coercion to repress free speech; and they keep a tight grip on the economy and society as a whole.

As it has before, Mr. Rodiles pointed out, the regime is also trying to play games with emigration, allowing a surge in order to put pressure on the United States. Mr. Rodiles said that the White House fails to understand the complexity of a power structure determined to exploit the gains from Mr. Obama’s opening for its own survival rather than acquiesce to changes that would loosen its grip.

Barriers are falling — the latest being a bilateral agreement announced Thursday for scheduled air service between the United States and Cuba — but these incremental steps should not be mistaken for the arrival of freedom in Cuba. The Castros will not give an inch if they can avoid it. The real challenge for Mr. Obama is to cause change, and not just enrich and empower those who would stymie it.

One year after rapprochement, Cuba is no freer

Fidel Castro: "Leave some room for the Pope"
Fidel Castro: “Leave some room for the Pope”

The Washington Post, by Charles Lane

Much has changed in Cuba since President Obama and the island’s dictator, Ra úl Castro, announced their rapprochement a year ago.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed into Cuban government coffers, due to more U.S. tourism and remittances. Havana has negotiated a generous U.S.-tolerated debt restructuring with Western creditors. You can’t walk down the street in Havana, it seems, without bumping into a would-be U.S. investor. And, of course, the stars and stripes wave over a reopened U.S. E mbassy in Havana.

When it comes to the elementary freedoms that the Castro regime has denied its people since 1959, though, results are scant.

“This year has been a bad year for us,” democratic activist Antonio G. Rodiles told Post editors Tuesday. Rodiles cited a “huge increase in arbitrary arrests,” as well as his own savage beating by regime thugs in July .

“Raúl Castro has been legitimized and recognized by the majority of the governments of the planet, and played a leading part in a Summit of the Americas, amid flashing cameras and meetings with Barack Obama,” writes independent blogger Yoani S ánchez. “Inside the country, he has not wanted to give even the slightest recognition to his critics, against whom he has continued arrests, mob actions and painful character assassination.”

As for freer telecommunications, there are a few new open-air WiFi hotspots, exorbitantly priced and officially monitored, S ánchez notes. Meanwhile, Washington trumpets a deal to restore snail-mail service between the United States and Cuba — on a date to be announced.

This is what happens when a magical-thinking president runs up against a communist octogenarian who inherited Cuba from his brother Fidel — and aspires to pass it on to his son, the current intelligence chief, and son-in-law, the tourism industry boss.

“Our central premise,” Obama explained to Yahoo News this week, “has always been for a small country 90 miles off the shores of Miami, that if they are suddenly exposed to the world and America and opened up to our information and our culture and our visitors and our businesses, invariably they are going to change.”

If Obama can figure that out, so can Castro; the dictator has every incentive to limit U.S.-Cuban interactions to those he can contain and control, which is what he has done so far. (By the way, Havana is 229 miles from Miami.) When Yahoo News asked Obama to list “concessions” Castro had made, the president couldn’t name one.

Obama wants Congress to lift the rest of the embargo, in part to eliminate one of Castro’s last propaganda excuses. Anticipating that, Castro has declared that, even if the embargo ends, “normalization” as he defines it would hinge on more U.S. concessions, including a handover of the naval base at Guatanamo Bay.

U.S. engagement probably won’t “work” in Cuba any more than isolation did; and Cuba is not analogous to China, to which it’s often compared.

There was no real alternative to trade and engagement with a geopolitical giant such as China, human rights notwithstanding. Tiny, impoverished Cuba offers no strategic compensation for legitimizing its dictatorship through business as usual — not even the agreement to protect whitetip sharks and other marine life Washington and Havana so excitedly unveiled.
We could have let the regime stew in its repressive juices, or presented it a “road map” linking changes in U.S. policy to irreversible democratic reforms in Cuba. Let Havana explain why denying free elections for 57 years — 57! — matters more than trade.

Belatedly, Obama is injecting a note of conditionality, telling Yahoo News that he won’t visit the island in 2016 unless he’s free to meet dissidents.

That would be a welcome contrast to Pope Francis’s itinerary, which included a sit-down with the ancient Fidel Castro, but not with dissidents — some of whom were arrested in front of the pontiff.

We’ll see how hard a bargain Obama drives. Would he demand a meeting with Rodiles, who’s among the activists Ra úl Castro dislikes most — yet who says U.S. diplomats have snubbed him since the embassy reopened?

Would Obama insist on a live TV speech, as former president Jimmy Carter did in 2002? Or would he settle for a closed-door sit-down with two activists, like the one he held at the Summit of the Americas — and that he cited to Yahoo News as a “precedent.”

Meanwhile, 45,000 Cubans fled the island for the United States this year, partly due to rumors of more restrictive U.S. immigration policies, partly because of what Sá nchez calls the “conditioned reflex to escape a hopeless existence.”

“Our original theory on this was not that we were going to see immediate changes or loosening of the control of the Castro regime, but rather that, over time, you’d lay the predicates for substantial transformation,” Obama told Yahoo News.

He has all the time in the world to try his theory — before leaving office a year from now. Cubans are tired of waiting.

One year after his betrayal of the Cuban people, Obama’s surrender to the Cuban dictators continue

The repression of the Cuban dictatorship against the people is much worse than it was a year ago; the Cuban exodus has more than doubled, but Obama doesn’t care.  All he wants is to make sure that his Cuban partners get as much help as possible before he exits the White House.

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Obama renews call to end Cuba embargo
The Hill
President Obama is using Thursday’s one-year anniversary of his historic detente with Cuba to renew his call on Congress lift the U.S.’s longstanding trade embargo against the communist island nation.

“Congress can support a better life for the Cuban people by lifting an embargo that is a legacy of a failed policy,” he said in a statement.

Obama hailed slow but steady progress toward normalizing relations with Cuba after ending five decades of hostilities stemming from the Cold War.
“Change does not happen overnight, and normalization will be a long journey,” he said. “The last 12 months, however, are a reminder of the progress we can make when we set the course toward a better future.”

The president is defending his decision to end the U.S. policy of isolation toward Cuba, which has prompted fierce criticism from Republicans — and some Democrats — that he is aiding the repressive government of Cuban President Raúl Castro.

Obama and his aides have pointed to signs of progress. Just this week, the U.S. and Cuba agreed to reestablish regular commercial airline travel and direct postal service after 50 years of stoppages.

This summer, the governments of both countries reopened embassies in Washington and Havana. Obama has acted to loosen travel restrictions and relax bans on economic activity within Cuba.

Obama this week expressed interest in traveling to Cuba before the end of his presidency. But he said he would only make the trip if human rights conditions improve on the island.

Many disputes have prevented both countries from fully turning over a new leaf. Obama’s critics have noted Castro continues to crack down on pro-democracy dissidents and the Cuban government has vociferously protested the U.S. embargo.

The U.S. and Cuba have also sparred about property disputes, the status of the American military base at Guantanamo Bay and the status of fugitives.

“The first year of President Obama’s Cuba policy has been like the rest of his foreign policy: a disaster that prioritizes legacy-shaping headlines over freedom and results, treats our enemies far better than our allies, and negotiates deals from a position of weakness,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a Cuban-American, said in a statement.

Obama urged critics to have patience with his policy. And he said that engaging with the Cuban government is a better way of resolving disputes than continuing to cut them off.

“We are advancing our shared interests and working together on complex issues that for too long defined — and divided — us,” he said.

“We continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but we raise those issues directly, and we will always stand for human rights and the universal values that we support around the globe.”

U.S. to charge Venezuela’s National Guard chief with drug trafficking

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En Español Reuters

Reuters

U.S. prosecutors are preparing to unveil drug trafficking charges against the head of Venezuela’s National Guard, according to people familiar with the case, as the United States investigates the suspected involvement of senior Venezuelan officials in the cocaine trade.

Nestor Reverol, the former head of Venezuela’s anti-narcotics agency and a long-time ally of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, is named in a sealed indictment pending in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, according to the people.

He would be one of the highest-ranking Venezuelan officials – and the only one currently in office – to face U.S. drug charges.

Reverol, who leads the branch of Venezuela’s armed forces that controls the country’s borders, could not be reached for comment by Reuters.

In recent years, he has rejected U.S. accusations that Venezuela has failed to curb illicit drug shipments and has touted the government’s success in cracking down on the flow of cocaine from neighboring Colombia.

The National Guard did not respond to an email seeking comment, and a National Guard press official contacted by telephone declined to comment. Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not respond to an emailed request for reaction.

It is unclear what the specific charges are against Reverol, or when the charges against him will be made public.

U.S. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr and a spokesperson for Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Robert Capers, whose office is handling the case against Reverol, declined to comment. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spokesman Joseph Moses declined to comment.

U.S. prosecutors have unsealed indictments charging at least five former Venezuelan officials with drug trafficking crimes over the past four years, according to records from Florida and New York district courts.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro dismisses charges of official involvement in drug trafficking as an international right-wing campaign to discredit socialism in Venezuela.

His Socialist Party says drug interdiction efforts have improved since Venezuela expelled the DEA in 2005.

Venezuelan opposition leaders have for years accused high-level government officials of involvement in the drug trade or of turning a blind eye to the role of military officers in narcotics trafficking.

The U.S. State Department said in its annual narcotics control report this year that Venezuela has become one of the main transit routes for illegal drugs from South America due to the country’s porous border with neighboring Colombia, its “weak judicial system, sporadic international counter narcotics cooperation, and permissive and corrupt environment.”

Up to a quarter of all cocaine exported from South America in 2011 departed from Venezuela, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Members of Venezuela’s National Guard have been heavily involved in the drug trade, according to Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former chief of international operations.

“The National Guard has been key to opening up the doors into Venezuela for Colombian drug trafficking organizations and subversive groups,” he said. “They have transformed Venezuela into a massive pipeline for cocaine into the United States and Europe.”

Two other former officials with the National Guard have been indicted on U.S. drugs charges in recent years.

Relatives of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores have also been caught up in U.S. anti-drug-trafficking efforts.

Two of her nephews, Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, were arrested in Haiti last month and indicted in federal court in Manhattan on cocaine trafficking charges. Lawyers for the nephews did not immediately respond to requests for comment. They have previously said the pair would plead not guilty.

U.S. officials said those arrests were not an effort to go after Maduro’s government but a case of U.S. law enforcement seeking to prosecute suspected wrongdoing.

Obama ‘very much’ wants to go to Cuba, unfortunately, it is only to visit

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CNN

President Barack Obama said he would “very much” like to visit Cuba before the end of his presidency, but he made clear that the “conditions have to be right.”

“If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk with everybody,” Obama said during an interview with Yahoo News published Monday, marking a year since news broke that the United States and Cuba would begin normalizing relations.

“What I’ve said to the Cuban government is ‘if, in fact, I, with confidence, can say that we’re seeing some progress in the liberty and freedom and possibilities of ordinary Cubans, I’d love to use a visit as a way of highlighting that progress,'” the President said, hinting a decision on his travel would come in the next several months. “If we’re going backwards, then there’s not much reason for me to be there.”

After decades of severed ties between the United States and Cuba that began during the Cold War, Obama announced the formal re-establishing of diplomatic relations with the island nation in July, reopening embassies in each other’s capitals.

During the interview, Obama also answered questions on the closing of Guantanamo Bay, saying that he and his “top intelligence and military advisers” are still convinced that shuttering the U.S. detention camp located in Cuba is the right choice.

“Between and myself and the Bush administration, hundreds of people have been released … We assume that … a handful of them are going to be embittered and still engaging in anti-US activities and trying to link up potentially with their old groups,” Obama said. “The bottom line is that the strategic gains we make by closing Guantanamo will outweigh, you know, those low-level individuals who, you know, have been released so far.”

Donald Trump Finally Attacks Ted Cruz, Referencing His Cuban Heritage

Huffington Post

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has finally unleashed a verbal assault on the one rival he has so far spared.

Trump went after Ted Cruz at a town hall event in Iowa Friday evening, accusing the Texas senator of being beholden to big oil companies because he opposes ethanol subsidies, which are deeply popular in this agricultural state.

“He’s a nice guy. I mean, everything I say he agrees with me, no matter what I say,” Trump began. “But with the ethanol, really, he’s got to come a long way.”

He added: “If Ted Cruz is against ethanol, how does he win in Iowa? Because that’s very anti-Iowa.”

Trump also appeared to take a veiled shot at Cruz’s family background, suggesting Cruz might have trouble appealing to the state’s evangelical voters. “I do like Ted Cruz, but not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba,” he said of the country where Cruz’s father, an evangelical preacher, was born.

The attacks came after The New York Times reported that Cruz had questioned Trump’s judgment at a closed-door fundraiser, straining the rare detente between two of the race’s most outspoken candidates. Trump has gone after his other opponents gleefully and viciously, panning Jeb Bush as low-energy, Ben Carson as “pathological” and Marco Rubio as a lightweight who drinks too much water.

But the billionaire businessman had refrained from attacking Cruz, even as the Texas senator has surged in opinion polls, becoming Trump’s most serious challenger in early-voting Iowa.

Cruz’s campaign spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, declined to comment on Trump’s attacks.

Several attendees at Trump’s town hall event said in interviews before he spoke that they were torn between supporting Trump and Cruz, underscoring the risks each man faces going after the other too strongly.

Indeed, Trump was relatively reserved in his criticism, repeatedly telling the crowd he liked Cruz.

Asked at one point whether he would consider selecting Cruz as his running mate or nominating him to the Supreme Court, Trump was receptive.

“I would say that we would certainly have things in mind for Ted,” he said.

Trump took a new approach at the event at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, standing on a riser in the center of supporters, and speaking without a lectern.

During his remarks, Trump stressed the importance of winning the state.

“If we win Iowa,” he said, “I think we’re going to win everything after that.”