The words Fidel Castro have been fighting ones for Maurico Claver-Carone, the man helping President-elect Donald Trump craft policy on Cuba.
As a boy when he played high school football in Orlando, Claver-Carone wore his love for the island country with at least one black sock emblazoned with the Cuban flag. And when he wasn’t on the field, Claver-Carone was already making himself an expert on Cuban history and politics, and forming strong opinions about the Castro regime.
“If you ever mentioned Castro, he would go berserk,” said Ferlan Bailey, Claver-Carone’s longtime friend who graduated with him from Bishop Moore Catholic High School in 1993. “The word ‘Castro’ would just set him off. He’d be like, ‘Don’t even tell me you support Castro.’ He would talk about the people who were persecuted. He knew about the economy, he knew about everything.”
Bailey said Claver-Carone would never physically fight and preferred to dominate his opponents with wit.
“I remember one time in practice, one of the guys got heated and said, ‘We can fight right now,’” Bailey said. “And Mauricio just insulted him with his intelligence.”
Now all of the knowledge and skills Claver-Carone has honed over the years as one of the country’s leading pro-U.S. embargo hardliners will come to bear as he assumes one of the most consequential positions in his career. Last week, Trump appointed him to a key position on his transition team at the U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees financial sanctions enforcement with the communist island.
Claver-Carone, who had worked in Treasury in 2003 under President George W. Bush and has been a top lobbyist and advocate on Cuba, also will be handling regular rank and file work of the department. His portfolio also likely includes policy concerning sanctions on other nations, such as Iran and Venezuela.
The Miami native, raised in Spain and Orlando, obtained his masters in international law from the Georgetown University Law Center, his law degree from The Catholic University of America’s School of Law and his undergraduate degree from Rollins College.
Now back at the Treasury Department, Claver-Carone has one job that’s perfectly suited for him: undoing President Obama’s normalization efforts with Cuba — fulfilling a campaign promise made by Trump in September in Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community.
“All the concessions that Barack Obama has granted to the Castro regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them,” Trump told an enthusiastic crowd at the James L. Knight Center. “And that, I will do, unless the Castro regime meets our demands. Not my demands. Our demands.
“Those demands are religious and political freedom for the Cuban people. And the freeing of political prisoners,” Trump said.
Those words could have come directly from Claver-Carone’s Capitol Hill Cubans blog, which the 41-year-old regularly writes for as the executive director of the Cuba Democracy Advocates, a Washington, D.C., non-profit that promotes democracy and human rights in Cuba.
Claver-Carone’s expertise on Cuba has brought him before Congress repeatedly for testimony on the subject, and he’s become a go-to source for reporters, talk shows, and even an appearance on Comedy Central.
However, Claver-Carone has not spoken to a reporter since Trump tapped him for his transition team.