The leader of the anti-embargo group Puentes de Amor has denied the organization has ties to the Cuban government following allegations by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio that its members are acting as unregistered foreign agents for Cuba.
In a letter Monday, Rubio asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to open an investigation into the organization’s activities.
In a phone call from Havana, Carlos Lazo, the high school teacher who founded the group, said he was not aware of any activities he or other members had done that were considered a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. This law requires individuals and organizations acting as “agents” acting at the direction of foreign governments or organizations to register with the US Department of Justice.
“We don’t believe we’re in violation of any law,” Lazo said. “Puentes de Amor receives no funding from any government or anyone.”
Bridges of Love, incorporated in Washington state as a non-profit organization in November 2020, advocates for the lifting of US sanctions and for the Joe Biden administration to fulfill campaign promises to increase remittances and travel to Cuba and fully open the embassy of the United States in Havana.
Lazo said Puentes de Amor is a humanitarian organization that brings powdered milk and medicine to Cuba. The organization is raising funds to deliver more powdered milk to the island through the far-left website Code Pink.
But after a rally in Coral Gables on Sunday, where members of the group waved flags of Fidel Castro’s July 26 movement, Rubio, a Cuban-born Republican, called on the FBI to investigate the group’s “known ties to the Cuban regime.”
In his letter to the FBI, Rubio called members of Puentes de Amor “malicious actors” who work in coordination with the Cuban government “to sow division, incite conflict, and influence U.S. foreign policy.”
Lazo has met twice with Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel at the Palacio de la Revolución, the seat of government in Havana, an honor usually reserved for heads of state and other high-ranking officials.
Lazo said he met at the request of Cuban authorities and that he had no problem meeting the Cuban leader.
“I met in Cuba with President Miguel Díaz-Canel, first because they told me they wanted to invite me to talk about the problems that exist and the position of Cuba,” he said. “I am meeting with whoever I need to meet to ask for improvements and to build bridges of love between the peoples of Cuba and the United States.”
The first meeting in August last year came amid a crackdown on anti-government protesters who took to the streets on July 11, drawing international condemnation. But Lazo said he did not raise the issue because his organization has a narrow and “non-political” agenda.
“Our organization is a humanitarian organization,” he said. “There are many humanitarian organizations that have an agenda that is not political. We want the sanctions lifted and we have nothing else on our agenda.”
But he also said he has made other demands of Cuban authorities, including lifting an eight-year ban on Cubans who have left official positions abroad, such as doctors in government missions, to enter the country.
Lazo also denied involvement in the Cuban government’s use of the group for propaganda purposes. Puentes de Amor’s activities are frequently covered by Cuban state media, and Díaz-Canel has turned the group’s name into a label that he and his followers have adopted on social media.
“Let Díaz-Canel publish it, let Cuba publish it, let Spain publish it,” he said. “Look, this has nothing to do with us. We’re fighting to get the sanctions lifted and we’re fighting to get the agenda that Biden promised.”