On Monday's Rundown, MSNBC's Luke Russert repeatedly touted the supporters of the communist Cuban regime who rallied outside near the newly-opened Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C.: "I would say, from talking to people, those who are in favor of this outnumber those who are opposed to it...probably, at least, five to one – just from my anectodal conversations." Russert also hyped that "this is something that is [one of] President Obama's...signature foreign policy achievements in his second term, and at least in terms of people who are here, it's getting rave reviews." [video below]
The correspondent spotlighted the "there is also a cocktail reception – because this is a joyous occasion for many behind me and over there – and the bar is named after – who else – but Ernest Hemingway. He spent a lot of time in Cuba." He continued that it was "a very joyous, jubilant occasion here at what will be the new Cuban embassy – new after 54 years of being dormant."
News anchor Richard Liu asked Russert, "While this jubilation does exist, there's also, I heard, some of the chants around you – and it may be inaudible – but what are you hearing from the protesters themselves?" The MSNBC journalist barely mentioned the anti-Castro demonstrators in his answer, and focused almost entirely the supporters. He also included a very favorable description of a notorious far-left group that was participating in the pro-regime rally:
LUKE RUSSERT: Well, most of the protesters are actually in favor of this, and they're shouting, 'Viva Raul [Castro]! Viva Obama!' I'm sure he's probably not thrilled to be intertwined with Raul that directly. A few of the things, as you have heard, from people opposed to this – it says, 'Cuba yes, Fidel no.' So there still is, I would say, a lot of anger directed at Fidel Castro. But almost everybody – whether it be the Code Pink anti-war protesters, who are people that want the United States to be less belligerent around the world; whether it be Cuban-Americans, who have, for some time, have been supportive of this. Remember, Richard, the breakdown is, the older you are as a Cuban American, the more opposed to Castro you are. A lot of the younger generation has passed this. They want normalized relations, because they believe that a modern-day Cuba will really reach its full potential with an influx of capitalism, and in influx of American investment, and in influx of European investment – because they want a lot of the – those who are poor and afflicted – let's just watch this right now. You have the Cuban flag going up in Washington, D.C., in an official capacity – first time in 54 years – a truly historic moment.
After pausing to carry the actual flag raising, Liu followed up by playing up that "54 years later, we can now use the word 'embassy.' And this building has so much history to it – a grand marble staircase in the center of it. It is quite a building within itself." Russert noted some of the past developments in U.S-Cuba relations before continuing to highlight the pro-Castro celebrations near the embassy:
RUSSERT: ...I was talking to some of the older people here in the crowd. I said, did you feel you would live to see this day? A lot of people were supportive of this – and many of them said no, because it was such a politically-expedient issue in the United States – especially in the state of Florida, which was so important in the Electoral College – that nobody really wanted to be on the wrong side of it. It was not worth going all in on. And you saw talk of this – Jimmy Carter tried to do more; Bill Clinton tried to do more – but President Obama making – making the calculated decision – and I would argue probably some Democratic strategists – saw the difference between older Cuban Americans and younger Cuban Americans on the issue – decided to make this move. It's proved very controversial. A lot of Republicans oppose it – Jeb Bush, Marco Rubo – both of Florida – speaking out against it. But as you see behind me, a lot of jubilation; a lot of people thrilled about this, because they believe this is the first step to a new day in Cuba – alleviating some of that massive poverty that we see there on a large scale.
Even when Liu brought up the issue of the ongoing trade embargo, the correspondent returned to his anecdotes of the pro-regime protesters:
LIU: ...[T]here, clearly, is controversy that you're discussing. There's also the issue of the trade embargo, and what is going forward.
RUSSERT: Very interesting thing that we should point out here, is the trade embargo is still in place. And what you're seeing behind me is some people who say – look, just because you have a restoration of diplomatic relations, that's not enough. We want the trade embargo lifted. Now, that probably is not going to happen, because that takes an act of Congress while Republicans control both chambers. But what you're going to see on that front, Richard, is a real movement, in the next few years, of United States business professionals – those from around the world – that say, look, the best way to improve the human rights condition in Cuba is by opening up foreign investment, because then we have more eyes and ears on the ground – similar to you've seen in countries such as China that still, sort of, operate as communist-capitalist government, if that is possible. So that's what you're hearing behind me.
But I will say that if you just talk to these protesters – and you see them – most everyone is very supportive of this historic moment – and even the ones who are opposing it, they're a little tempered, because it's Cuba – yes, we love Cuba, but Fidel, no – we hate Fidel. We don't forgive Fidel for what happened in the 1950s, when so many people had to flee and became refugees in Florida and other parts of the United States. So, somewhat a microcosm of the overall struggle about Cuba going on behind me.
Russert added by touting that "President Obama is able to say, look, he restored diplomatic relations with Cuba. A lot of speculation he might, in fact, visit Cuba – becoming the first American president to do that by the end of his administration...He's really trying to make his mark on this more...big-tent foreign policy, doing...what he said in 2008 is I want to talk to our enemies. I don't necessarily just want to just bomb them or be belligerent to them off the bat. So they have a big move in that direction."
To its credit, the liberal network then brought on a representative from an anti-Castro regime organization after the extended segment with Russert. Liu inserted one question that forward the Obama administration's talking points on Cuba during the interview:
RICHARD LIU: I want to bring in the director of U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, Mauricio Claver-Carone. Mauricio, thank you for joining us – and you could hear would Luke [Russert] was reporting for us, and he was commenting – as well as we were hearing, 'Viva Fidel!' 'Viva Raul! Fidel, Fidel!' on this historic moment – on this historic day, the sounds of the Cuban national anthem also part of what we were seeing, as Luke so well described to us what was happening there. What do you make of what we were hearing?
MAURICIO CLAVER-CARONE, U.S.-CUBA DEMOCRACY PAC: Yeah. Well, unlike some of the stereotypes that Luke mentioned, I'm a young Cuban American who sees this day with great sadness – and the way I see it with great sadness is that that flag that went up is worthy of the hands of free Cubans. And instead, it went up by the hands of a bloody regime that has so much blood on their hands – and again, not from the 1950s – but just yesterday, over 70 Cuban dissidents were violently arrested for trying to simply speak out and give their opinions. So this is a very present moment.
The fact here is, that to raise a Cuban flag in Washington, D.C., the United States did not have to lower its standards – and in order to reach this agreement – and in the talks that have been taking place over the last six months – the United States lowered tremendously its standards – including accepting violations of international law, which are not accepted anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. For example, one of the things that we're going to allow is that only four out of 51 – I mean, think of it – four out of 51 U.S. diplomats in Havana are going to be able to travel around the island. We have – the Cuban regime has refused the inviolability of our U.S. diplomatic pouches. Those are both against the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. And we've accepted this – lowering our standards; lowering international standards – simply for a talking point and for a line in the history books for the President, and for a flag to go up. I think, frankly, it's a sad day for diplomacy. I think it's a sad day for democratic solidarity. This week was – was – Congress named it – it's 'Captive Nations Week.,' and what it's supposed to do is to honor those that are living under tyrannies throughout the world – including those people that are fighting for freedom in Cuba. And as you just heard there in the background, those individuals putting up those flags are screaming, 'Viva Fidel!' – viva the people that are imprisoning and beating and violating every fundamental right of the Cuban people. That is not celebratory by any means.
LIU: Mauricio, what the White House has said is – you know, the last five decades and the administrations encompass that time – whatever efforts they made were not working; and therefore, what see today, as this flag is being raised, that we should do something different. That would be what the White House says. And you're saying that doing something different is not good. Also, what they'll say is there's only a handful of countries, of polities across the world that the United States does not have some sort of relationship with. And, therefore – with China and Russia as well – why not do this?
CLAVER-CARONE: Because the fact is that 34 out of 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere are democracies, and foreign policy is done regionally. We have something here called the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which holds democracy to be at the forefront of our regional policy. We are now downgrading democracy and freedom in an almost universally democratic hemisphere for the sake of essentially embracing the last totalitarian dictatorship in the Americas. I think that that's a short-sighted policy. And by the way, a lot of the debate we're having here about opening embassies was similar to the debate that we just had a few years ago about opening embassies in Syria, and that didn't turn out so well, either.
The fact remain that this regime in Cuba remains an anti-American regime; remains the foremost violator of fundamental rights in the entire Western Hemisphere; and one that is continuing to subvert democracy in other regions – in other nations in the hemisphere – for example, in Venezuela, where we see that thousands of Cuban agents continue to have nefarious activities, and conduct nefarious activities against our interests there. So I think it's a very short-sighted policy by the administration.
LIU: Mauricio, Claver-Carone; Luke Russert, live on the ground there in front of what is now called the Cuban embassy – please both of you stand by. We're going to go straight back to D.C. on this historic day.