Updated May 21, 2024 - Politics

"Shocking": Miami leaders angry after TSA gives Cuban officials airport tour

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 04: A TSA agent waits for passengers to use the TSA PreCheck lane being implemented by the Transportation Security Administration at Miami International Airport on October 4, 2011 in Miami, Florida.

A TSA agent at Miami International Airport in 2011. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Biden administration ignited a political firestorm in Miami after allowing Cuban government officials to tour TSA facilities at Miami International Airport, enraging local leaders who raised security concerns.

Why it matters: Monday's unannounced State Department tour — which Miami-Dade County leaders said gave Cuban officials access to secure areas at MIA for five hours — led to a formal rebuke from the county and demands for an apology.

  • The timing of the tour, on Cuban Independence Day, angered Cuban American leaders in Miami, who make up the largest Cuban diaspora in the U.S.
  • "As a Cuban American and native Miamian, I'm appalled that this took place," MIA director Ralph Cutié said at Tuesday's commission meeting.

Cutié said the federal agencies did not inform him or Democratic Mayor Daniella Levine Cava about the tour.

  • Five Cuban officials with the Communist nation's transportation department were granted access to inspect a TSA checkpoint and baggage screening area at the airport, he said at the meeting.
  • Levine Cava said her office contacted the Department of Homeland Security to get answers and request county involvement in "any future decisions regarding granting access to MIA facilities to foreign government officials."

Republican Commissioner René Garcia called it an "assault on our security."

  • "It's not even about the Cuban issue now; it's about the security of our community, the security of our airport, the security of our nation."

Reality check: A TSA spokesperson in a statement said the agency "routinely works with all countries with direct flights to the United States."

  • "U.S. and Cuban authorities jointly manage the airspace between Cuba and the United States and ensure the safety and security of travelers using our airports."
  • Similar visits by Cuban officials have happened since 2011, continuing through the Trump administration, a State Department spokesperson told the Miami Herald.

The latest: The County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to condemn the TSA for the tour and President Joe Biden for removing Cuba from a list of countries the U.S. says are "not cooperating fully" in anti-terrorism efforts.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Republican Rep. Carlos Giménez, the former county mayor, slammed the Biden administration for the move.

  • "Only under the Biden administration would they allow a terrorist regime into our secure facilities at one of the busiest airports in America," Rubio wrote in a statement.
  • Giménez called it a "slap in the face" to the Cuban exile community — immigrants who have fled the Communist nation in waves since 1959.

What they're saying: Cuban-American members of the County Commission said it was no coincidence that the tour was planned for Cuba's Independence Day.

  • Republican Commissioner Kevin Marino Cabrera said the Cuban government "played" the TSA administration and State Department.
  • "The fact that they did it on the day that they did it just proves that it was done to be hurtful and to make a point and to try to hurt the Cuban community," Republican Commissioner Raquel Regalado said.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Miami.

More Miami stories