Cuba Politics

As Cuba Goes, Florida May Follow

Posted May 27, 2003 by publisher in Cuba Politics.

By Martin Edwin Andersen | [url=][/url]

Cuba’s 101st independence day, May 20, was a day like any other for that country’s more than 11 million people who still live inside Fidel Castro’s gulag. His regime still basked in the glow of having been re-elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council, recognition of the island’s contribution to human rights around the globe, said Fidel’s spokesmen. Meanwhile, the island faced one of its worst sugar harvests in a century, and a hard-currency shortage made essentials such as food and fuel even scarcer for those outside of the Communist Party nomenklatura.

In Washington, President George W. Bush brought to the White House a group of former Cuban political prisoners and relatives of some of those still imprisoned. “My hope is for the Cuban people to soon enjoy the same freedoms and rights as we do,” said the man who owes his presidency to the votes of Cuban-Americans as much as any other group. “Dictatorships have no place in the Americas.”

The White House event was nice enough, but it didn’t hide the fact that the day before a U.S.-backed statement condemning human-rights violations in Cuba was withdrawn at the Organization of American States (OAS) after failing to garner enough support from other members. Only after its authors (Canada, Chile and Uruguay) took the unprecedented step of resubmitting the text - which expressed “deep concern about the sharp deterioration” of the human-rights situation in Cuba - as “nonbinding” did 16 of the hemispheric body’s 34 members sign on to it.

Strongman Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, as well as Brazil - whose new populist government is praised by Wall Street for its “moderation” - led the fight to kill not only the resolution but also the OAS’ moral voice in the coming post-Castro period. Not surprisingly, Venezuelan Ambassador Jorge Valero, whose government has had no problem in coddling Colombian guerrillas and other international terrorists, delicately warned that the statement would “heighten differences and tensions that exist in the hemisphere.” Instead, the honorable Valero urged the OAS to debate Cuba in an “integral way” by including a discussion on the U.S. economic embargo against the island. It’s an old tactic: Change the subject and, maybe, it will go away.

The pantywaist approach taken by the OAS - one of Washington’s most tedious debating societies - to the hemisphere’s last remaining dictatorship and the world’s longest reigning tyrant came after the Castro regime imprisoned some 75 pro-democracy activists in the worst crackdown on the island in recent years. After meting out prison sentences of six to 28 years, the regime added an additional libel by branding the dissidents as U.S. “mercenaries.”

Last week, the United States kicked 14 Cuban diplomats about of the country, accusing them of spying. Meanwhile the Bush administration has appeared to dawdle on forging an effective response to the actions against the island’s growing pro-democracy forces. A ban on cash remittances to Cuban families from their American counterparts is considered by many to be ineffective and, since the relatives will suffer more than the regime, inhumane. Ideas about rallying additional international opposition to the Cuban regime meanwhile face stumbling blocks such as those posed by the OAS. Direct aid to island dissidents, such a providing them with communications equipment, might also result in even greater human-rights abuses by a dictatorship that appears willing to go tit-for-(limited) tat.

All of this has the Cuban diaspora, seeing the results of U.S. “shock-and-awe” campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, chafing for change. “Exiles want more than talk from Bush Administration; No change in Cuba Despite Republican Administration,” declares a May 13 e-mail from a group called the Cuban American Republican Council [url=][/url]

“There is growing discontent among Cuban exiles with the George W. Bush administration’s Cuba policy,” says Hank Tester, an NBC-6 broadcaster with WFFG Keys Talk Radio in Florida who frequently reports on the Cuban exile community. “Despite historically rock-solid support for Republican presidential candidates, and barrels of cash laid on Republican presidential campaigns, Fidel Castro is still in power. Republican presidents dating back to Richard Nixon have talked the talk but not walked the walk, and not much has changed with the current resident of the White House. That’s the word I have been picking up on.”

Political analysts tell Insight that the feelings of Florida Cubans voiced by Tester are shared by the large Cuban-American community in New Jersey, which already is trending toward the Democrats. As Florida Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart see more non-Cubans moving into their congressional districts, critics claim that they are limiting their political concerns about Cuba to more parochial issues - meaning they have little or no influence with Cubans outside of Florida. Rep. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), on the other hand, appears to be gaining a lot of influence with Cubans within and outside of his district in New Jersey, and even beyond the borders of the Garden State.

Cuban-American sources within the GOP say that the disillusionment is not limited to administration policy on Cuba, but also to a perception that their support is being taken for granted. These sources say that despite Bush’s whisker-thin win in the Sunshine State in 2000, not enough has been done to appoint Cuban-Americans to senior policy jobs. They point out that if the next Supreme Court nominee is a Hispanic, he is likely to be Mexican-American, not Cuban-American. How this plays out in the 2004 elections is anyone’s guess but, according to one long-time GOP stalwart: “If the Democrats pick [highly popular Florida Democratic Sen.] Bob Graham as their vice-presidential running mate, there could be real problems for the Republicans among the Miami Cuban community.”

Not content to leave the fate of the island in the hands of Washington politicians of either party, in Puerto Rico, a group of exiles gathered together as a National Transition Commission [url=][/url] to urge Cuban-Americans to join together in creating a virtual government in exile by means of a democratic plebiscite.

“We recognize that the demands [for democracy] that we have made on the regime have been proposed on repeated occasions by various governments, international organizations and prestigious individuals and that these have been systematically ignored and made to look foolish by Castro,” the group says in its founding declaration. “In order for the international organizations to apply economic and political sanctions on the regime and to force compliance with international laws and treaties, it is indispensable that the people of Cuba, both on the island and in exile, express and support these demands with one voice. For this reason, this commission proposes as a first step to convert the exile community in an important factor for Cuban liberty with the means to give effective support to the island’s dissidents.”

The commission says its referendum with ask four essential questions: 1) Do you agree that it is necessary to legitimate a free Cuban government? 2) Do you believe that it is necessary to support a transitional committee to achieve this free government? 3) Do you believe it is important to actively support those internal groups with the broadest public appeal? 4) Do you support the petition signed by more than 10,000 Cubans on the island demanding a national plebiscite to vote on political, economic and social reforms?

It is a unique approach. By getting the exile community to speak with one voice in favor of both democracy and those on the island who are on the front lines in trying to achieve it, Cuba’s diaspora - as much as 20 percent of the island’s native born sons and daughters - may become relevant to a process that it has been effectively shut out of in recent years. For years Fidel as played several riffs of the same theme: that democracy activists are stooges of the Americans; that Cuban-Americans are interested in a role in island politics that relegates those still there to that of mere spectators; that a rapproachment between the United States and Cuba necessarily requires a softening of the U.S. stance toward the regime.

Cubans on the island fighting for democracy and a diaspora fully committed to their success. Hmm. What was that old leftist slogan: “The people united will never be defeated”?

In this case, it sounds about right.

Martin Edwin Andersen, a contributing writer to Insight, recently edited a U.S. government-funded study on possible democratic transitions in post-Castro Cuba.

Member Comments

On November 22, 2004, Martin Edwin Andersen wrote:

Port Security News

22 November, 2004

Anticipating al-Qaeda: DHS science and technology czar says new software for ports could have also countered Castro

By Martin Edwin Andersen
Managing Editor
Port Security News

The Department of Homeland Security efforts to improve maritime domain awareness include technological breakthroughs that, had they been available 40 years ago, might have let U.S. policymakers better anticipate, and thus counter, moves by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, Dr. Charles E. McQueary, DHS undersecretary for science and technology, said last week.

McQueary also said that a maritime security policy coordinating committee—whose members include representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard as well as the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, State, Commerce and Justice—is reviewing all current U.S. government maritime policy initiatives and attempting to “ensure inter-agency integration and alignment.”

McQueary made his comments in a speech,  “Identifying Needs and Coordinating Transportation Security Research,” given Nov. 17th at the 7th Marine Transportation System Research and Technology Coordination Conference held at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

The former president of General Dynamics Advanced Technology Systems said that a software program developed at the National Visualization Center—a joint venture between DHSí science and technology (S&T) directorate and the Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland, Washington—shows “great promise” in anti-terror efforts as security officials sift through massive amounts of information relating to the countryís seaports, looking for patterns.

The promise for fighting current security threats, McQueary added, was shown when researchers “put 40 years of Castroís speeches in this thing and, indeed, found that had this capability existed back in the ‘60s, when Cuba was going through its upheaval, you could have predicted, based upon the speeches that were being given, that Cuba was well on its way to nationalizing the oil industry within the state.”

By sifting through the speeches, McQueary said, “What came out of it was Castro has this way of talking more and more freely about whatís about to happen, and so if you play close attention you will get a predictive mode.”


Martin Edwin Andersen can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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