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Posted December 13, 2010 by publisher in Cuban American Politics

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George Diaz

Miami Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart used to enter his Capitol Hill office each morning sounding a battle cry for the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

“Codification!” he would shout, imploring his staff and anyone in hearing range to help him find a way to entrench the embargo so deeply into law that it could not be weakened by any president until the dawn of a democratic Cuba.

Mission accomplished.

The embargo, in fact, was codified into law—at Diaz-Balart’s insistence—when then-President Bill Clinton reluctantly signed a bill in 1996 that required dramatic reforms in Cuba before the Cold War policy could be significantly changed. The congressman’s achievement has tied the hands of the White House ever since, stymied many of his colleagues in Congress and frustrated American tourists who yearn to legally visit the island 90 miles from Florida’s shores.

Diaz-Balart was still shouting “Codification!” last week while recounting his legacy, as he prepared to leave Congress after 18 years of representing a district that straddles Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

“The law requires free elections in Cuba before you can unilaterally allow U.S. tourism,” he exulted.

His message to the Castro regime: “Do you want those billions and billions of tourism dollars? Then unchain the Cuban people!”’

Blood feud

For Diaz-Balart, the cause is personal as well as political.

His father, Rafael Diaz-Balart, had been close friends with Fidel Castro before they parted ways and became bitter enemies. To the family’s dismay, Lincoln’s aunt, Mirta Diaz-Balart, married Castro in 1948, though they divorced six years later.

The Diaz-Balarts were closely associated with the government of Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban leader who was deposed by Castro in 1959, forcing the family into exile.

Lincoln grew up idolizing President Lyndon Johnson, a Cold War liberal who combined anti-communism with anti-poverty crusades. The young exile’s political evolution reflects the distinctive nature of Cuban-American politics, often misunderstood and full of apparent contradictions.

He’s a loyal Republican who once served as president of the Florida Young Democrats. He supports conservative causes but refused to sign the “Contract with America,” the Republican manifesto of 1994, because it contained provisions he deemed anti-immigrant.

He calls for fiscal restraint, but often sought federal aid for his working-class district, and last month he broke party ranks by voting to extend unemployment benefits.

He also strayed from the party line by supporting immigration reform that would include a path to citizenship for unauthorized foreign residents. And he criticizes Republican campaign rhetoric that “conveys the impression to the Hispanic community that it is under attack.”

Along the way, he bonded with Democrats, including former South Florida Congressman Robert Wexler, who served with him in the state Senate in the early ‘90s The young men from urban South Florida found themselves in a chamber dominated by older legislators, some from rural areas with vestiges of racial segregation.

Wexler, a Jewish liberal who now leads the Center for Middle East Peace, recalls Diaz-Balart telling him one day: “You follow me on Cuba, and I’ll follow you on Israel, and we’ll be all right.”

Clinton’s capitulation

When he came to Congress in 1993, Diaz-Balart was a relatively moderate Republican who took an especially hard line on Cuba. Most of all, he was determined to safeguard the embargo.

The climax of his career came in 1996 when Clinton was loosening Cuba policy by establishing people-to-people contacts, talking with Cuban diplomats and allowing more Americans to visit the island.

Alarmed conservatives in Congress proposed restrictive measures known as the Helms-Burton bill to bolster the embargo, which was then enforced by executive order.

That’s when Diaz-Balart was looking for a way to codify the policy into law. He got his chance after Cuban jet fighters shot down two airplanes flown by an anti-Castro group called Brothers to the Rescue.

The violent act shocked the public and infuriated Cuban-Americans, especially in Florida. Clinton, who wanted to win the big electoral state in his 1996 re-election campaign, suddenly reversed his attempts to reach out to Cuba.

“President Clinton caved. And he sent me up to Capitol Hill to negotiate a deal,” Richard Nuccio, Clinton’s advisor on Cuba, recalled last week. “The president had already decided to sign the Helms-Burton bill. So all we could do was try to attach as big a fig leaf as we could to cover the capitulation.”

Bargaining hard, Diaz-Balart demanded a provision that requires the president to certify that certain conditions exist in Cuba before he or any future chief executive could lift the embargo.

Diaz-Balart fondly ticks off those conditions: “Liberation of all political prisoners. Legalization of all political parties. Freedom of the press and of labor unions. And the scheduling of multi-party elections with international supervision. That’s what I mean by codification!”

Leaving Congress

Feeling he has accomplished his goals, Diaz-Balart, 56, decided to retire from Congress this year and return to Miami to practice law. He plans to lead an institute called the White Rose, a non-profit group that channels aid to dissidents in Cuba.

His legacy of a hard-line Cuba policy is likely to remain intact, bolstered by Republican gains in the midterm elections and the elevation of his Cuban-American colleague, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, to lead the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

President Barack Obama has fulfilled his campaign pledge to allow Cuban-Americans to visit their families in Cuba and send as much money as they want. But major changes to the embargo – such as opening the island to tourists—would require action in Congress, and Obama has not indicated whether he will push for such legislation.

“Even though the ground has moved out from under him in some ways, Lincoln has remained a leader for those who want to isolate the Castro regime and bring it down from without,” said George Gonzalez, a political scientist at the University of Miami. “You could accuse him of being out of step (with much of the country.) But his position does remain a rallying point for the most vocal element of the exile community.”

—————————————- Havana Journal Comments—————————————-

The Havana Journal HAS NEVER supported Diaz-Balart’s efforts in Congress and has no plans to support any of his efforts with regards to aiding dissent in Cuba.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on December 13, 2010 by Alberto N Jones

    It has always been easy to identify an extremist, opportunist and a coward. 

    After working tireless with Ileana-Ros Lethinen, Bob Menendez, Bob Martinez, Albor Sires, Mario Diaz-Balart and all other right wing Cuban-Americans in the state and Federal government positions,these cold war, armchair warriors, who have rejoiced over the pain, suffering and deaths they have inflicted on the Cuban people with laws such as the Torricelli Bill, Helms Burton, breaking up the Cuban family structure by excluding uncles and cousins,reducing family visits to once every three years and spending no more than $50.00 per day and hundreds of other mean spirit, inhumane,wicked laws.

    We can only wonder, if these specimens and thousands of others not mentioned, were genuine, courageous liberators, willing to risk their lives on behalf of their purported beliefs, why have they being unwilling to purchase every piece of weapons and ammo that is readily available in hundreds of gun stores in Miami, charter hundreds of vessels moored across Florida and take a reverse Mariel boat lift to Cuba and fight for what they have enticed hundreds to do and die for them?

    With these Eunuch warriors, the Cuban government have nothing to worry about!

  2. Follow up post #2 added on December 13, 2010 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I agree.

    Add to this that Fidel does not want the Embargo lifted and you have 50 years of the stupid Embargo that hurts people, not governments.

    Cuba consulting services

  3. Follow up post #3 added on December 14, 2010 by Natasha

    To Alberto N Jones,

    Your comment about Cubans not trying to reach the shores of Cuba with weapons and vessels is incorrect. Many Cuban groups, of multiple ages can only dream of being able to return and fight once again to try to liberate their country. Read the history and you will see that many children of the older exile attempted this before.

    Living in the United States as I do, does not permit any group to do so. Trust me and in God, that if Cubans had the opportunity, the mission would be accomplished.

    I’m not trying to start a debate or an argument, it’s my opinion and my idea. Thanks to my parents I live in freedom to express myself.

    God bless America! Proud to be Cuban-American.

  4. Follow up post #4 added on December 14, 2010 by Alberto N Jones

    Dear Natasha,

    I hate to disagree, but as you know, most things humans do in life are forbidden by someone.  Humans do so, because they are inclined or have genuine desire to do it. Infidelity, pedophilia comes to mind, not withstanding its deadly risks.

    Also, those invading Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, did not leave from the United States, they did so from Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, which the last time I checked, are still there.

    Fighting and attempting to overthrow a government of your country with which you disagree, is your constitutional right, if you are willing to risk and pay the consequences.

    What is despicable, is the constant incitement of Afro-Cubans from Miami, turning some into pseudo-leaders, giving them bogus international recognition,US-AID money to incite them rebel against their government, provide the body count, while their masters live comfortably in their mansions in Miami and elsewhere.

    These tactics have failed and will continue to fail, because Afro-Cubans are mostly educated, have read history and know what most emigre leaders did to them while in Cuba, what they have done to the Afro-American community and will do to them, if they ever had an opportunity to return to Cuba.  Recidivism is not part of our lexicon!

  5. Follow up post #5 added on December 29, 2010 by Intellectual

    The bigger question, when, in the history of humanity, has a Marxist-Socialist government ever been able to provide for the material and spiritual needs of its people, and the economic and social advancement of the nation? The USSR, China under collectivism, North Korea, CUBA!? If just one example exists, I’ll drink the Kool-aid a become a Marxist. Until then, I remain a believer in the free market, private ownership, and a liberal democracy.

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