Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Shifting Politics of Cuba Policy

The Shifting Politics of Cuba Policy

There was a time, not too long ago, when any mainstream politician
running for statewide or national office in Florida had to rattle off
fiery rhetoric against the Cuban government and declare unquestioning
faith that the embargo on the island would one day force the Castros
from power.

For generations, among Cuban-Americans, once a largely monolithic voting
bloc, the embargo was a symbol of defiance in exile — more gospel than

That has changed dramatically in recent years as younger members of the
diaspora have staked out views that are increasingly in favor of
deepening engagement with the island. Cuba still looms large in Florida
politics, and to an extent nationally. But it is far from the clear-cut
issue it once was.

That evolution has allowed a growing number of seasoned politicians to
call the embargo a failure and argue that ending America's enmity with
Cuba represents the best chance of encouraging positive change on the
island. Several prominent Cuban-American businessmen who were once
strong supporters of the embargo have changed their stance and become
proponents of engagement. The pro-embargo lobby raises a fraction of the
money it once did. President Obama now receives more correspondence from
lawmakers who favor expanded ties than from those who want to keep
robust sanctions.


The shift has not been lost on the White House, where officials are
deliberating over how much progress they might be able to make on
President Obama's longstanding interest in expanding ties with Cuba. Mr.
Obama supported repealing the embargo when he was running for the United
States Senate in 2004 but backtracked as a presidential candidate,
saying in 2008 that the embargo gave Washington leverage over the Cuban

No bold move on Cuba policy would be risk-free. But the political
backlash Mr. Obama would face by taking steps to normalize relations is
likely to be manageable, even in the Cuban-American community, and well
worth the opportunities there would be for expansion in trade,
communications and relationships between Americans and ordinary Cubans.

Charlie Crist, the former governor of Florida who is in a tight race for
his old job, recently said he was interested in traveling to Cuba, an
idea he later scrapped, blaming a busy schedule. Mr. Crist, however, has
emphatically said he has come to see the embargo as a relic that must be
shelved. Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote in her memoirs, and repeated in a
recent interview, that she now favors repealing the embargo, which she
called a failure, because it has "propped up the Castros."

In Florida, members of Congress have staked out positions on Cuba that
once would have been considered political suicide. Representative Kathy
Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, traveled to the island last year and made
a strong appeal for an end to the sanctions, saying the United States
was failing to capitalize on economic reforms underway on the island.
She feels that far from hurting her politically, the stance has made her
more popular among constituents, including Cuban-Americans, who want to
play a role in the island's future.

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Even in Miami, where old-guard positions remain popular among older
exiles, who are largely Republicans, there have been notable changes. In
2012, Joe Garcia became the first Cuban-American Democrat from Miami to
be elected to the House. While he publicly supports the embargo, Mr.
Garcia holds views significantly different from other South Florida
members of Congress. For instance, he has called for clinical trials in
the United States of a Cuban diabetes treatment that has shown great
promise. He also favors easing travel restrictions to the island.

Still, ending the embargo, which requires congressional action, remains
challenging because a small but passionate group of Cuban-American
lawmakers is adamant about maintaining the status quo. The most vocal
defenders of the embargo are Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from
New Jersey; Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida; and
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart,
both Miami Republicans.

In April, during the height of the crisis set off by Russia's invasion
of Crimea, Mr. Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants who moved to the
United States in 1953, delivered a long, impassioned speech on the
Senate floor, arguing that despite the myriad foreign policy crises in
the world, Washington needed to focus on the abuses of "a Stalinist
police state" 90 miles away. He displayed photos of dissidents and
warned that expanded travel by Americans to Cuba was enabling a despotic
state. White House officials fear that Mr. Menendez, as the chairman of
the Foreign Relations Committee, could hold up confirmation of federal
nominees in retaliation for further moves to ease the embargo.

Although the embargo is locked into Congress for repeal, the Obama
administration can do several things to move forward and still have...
Larry Daley 38 minutes ago
Yet another editorial trying to save the Castro regimeWhat is it with
your Editorial board????Venezuela it seems is on the edge of a coupis...
Mr. Menendez's loathing of the Cuban government has only increased
because he believes the island's intelligence service sought to destroy
his career by planting a fabricated story in the media suggesting that
he had patronized underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.

White House officials are less concerned about pushback from
Republicans, who are reflexive about criticizing the president on
foreign policy. While a growing number of her congressional colleagues
have traveled to Cuba, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, who is among the most ardent
supporters of the embargo, seems to be strikingly out of touch with what
is happening on the island.

In a recent interview deploring a visit to Havana by Beyoncé and Jay-Z,
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen expressed outrage that the celebrities had stayed in
hotels where Cubans aren't allowed to stay, even if they could afford
it. As it happens, the Cuban government lifted that ban in 2008.

As the electorate has shifted on Cuba, some Cuban-American politicians
have begun to call for a review of the policy that puts newly arrived
Cubans on a fast track to citizenship, probably because new immigrants
support closer ties with the island and grew up despising the embargo.


Politics aside, the issue remains deeply personal for the holdouts,
Cuban-Americans of that generation say, because it continues to evoke
raw feelings about ancestry, homeland and loss. Those sentiments, which
have lasted for more than 50 years, cannot be ignored. But they should
not continue to anchor American policy on a failed course that has
strained Washington's relationship with allies in the hemisphere,
prevented robust trade with the island and offered the Cuban government
a justification for its failures.

Source: The Shifting Politics of Cuba Policy - -

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