Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cuban-Americans, a Single Bloc?

What do Japan, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Japan, China and Vietnam have in common? American soldiers fought each and every one of these nations in bloody wars from WWI and WWII, Korea and Vietnam, but the U.S. has an embassy as well as full diplomatic and trading relations with each and every one of them. All such conflicts were at least half a century ago. The closest we got to fighting Cuba was through our arming and funding Cuban nationals in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs attempted invasion of that island nation and a stare-down with the Soviet Union over nuclear missiles a year later. We’ve boycotted, embargoed, sanctioned and opposed Cuba at every level ever since. Although there are nascent shifts in our policy, having the same kind of relations with Cuba that we have with those former enemies is a bone of bitter contention between Republicans and Democrats.
We’ve screamed at nations from Saudi Arabia to China to many developing nations with whom we have trading and diplomatic relations over human rights violations. We have engaged certain East European  nations (for secret CIA interrogation prisons) to allow us to violate human rights, and we are considered an international human rights uber-hypocrite over our detention facilities in Guantánamo Bay, oddly enough in another country – Cuba – we accuse of human rights violations.
We have bowed to a fairly significant Base of aging Cuban-escapees who have settled, for the most part in South Florida, who have vowed never to allow the United States and the current Cuban regime to restore diplomatic relations. Fidel Castro, still alive but having abdicated in favor of his brother, Raúl, stands justifiably accused of torture and execution of dissidents, confiscation of their property and a crushing anti-freedom policy representative of old world communism that exists only in one other country in the world, North Korea.
But trying to compare North Korea with Cuba is virtually impossible. Cuba is a joyous place, filled with laughter and music, filled with more pro-American sentiments than I have ever experience in my many overseas travels. North Korea is dark, hovers near starvation, is home to brutal concentration camps and is addicted to military weapon systems and saber-rattling, bearing little relationship to a country that still relies on sugarcane for much of its economic sustenance.
Indeed, normalized diplomatic/trading relationships with all of the above former enemy nations has probably done more to vitiate human rights violations, encourage a more open society and raise the standard of living for well over a billion human beings. Germany was rebuilt after WWII; Vietnam and China are Asian economic tigers, embracing modernity with fierce enthusiasm. Saudi Arabia is slowly opening social-cultural doors that this child of desert nomads has struggled with for decades. Maybe some of these moves are not at the speed of change we might prefer, although many European countries have surpassed our own progress back here in the good old USA. There does seem to be a rather direct relationship between opening normalized trading and diplomatic rights and increasing the enjoyment of human rights.
I enjoyed my trip to Cuba, a few years ago with a group of ABA lawyers, a poor proud country, where a monthly average wage of $20 (plus a pile of subsidies from housing and food to medical care and education) generates a lifestyle low on luxury and a yearning for economic opportunity. You can go to a movie theater (where U.S. copyrights are routinely trampled) or a baseball game (their national sport) for 10 cents, but most of life there is relegated to the basics.
The two candidates for the 2016 presidential race most closely aligned with Cubans are GOP Florida politicians, former Governor Jeb Bush and current Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio has strongly opposed normalizing relations with the current Cuban leadership, claiming that recent approaches by the Obama administration to Cuba, offer “ten points for Cuba and .5 points for the United States.” Bush was equally vociferous: “I think it was the wrong thing to do.” Opposing the détente, perhaps even a latent entente, between the United States and Cuba, has become an immutable plank in the Republican platform. Maybe it was a Republican president, Richard Nixon, who normalized relations with a scary Maoist China, but they’ll be damned if a Democrat will open another such door to a vastly less-repressive country like Cuba.
Are Cuban-Americans accurately represented by this anti-Cuban sentiment? “The idea of the Cuban American monolith, the notion that the estimated 2 million immigrants and their offspring constitute a single-issue ramrod that for a half-century has forced Washington into a hard line against the Castro brothers’ regime, is crumbling in the classic, perhaps inevitable, way: Time is turning immigrants into Americans.
“‘Over the last 15 years, and especially the last five years, the Cuban American community has undergone a major transformation,’ said Fernando Amandi, whose research firm, Bendixen & Amandi International, regularly polls Cuban Americans. ‘In the most politicized Hispanic group in the country, there is now a cleavage in which the second and third generations, as well as more recent arrivals from Cuba, do not share the hard-line views and staunchly Republican affinity of the historic exile generation.’
“President Obama handily won the vote of Cuban Americans between ages 18 and 50 in both of his elections, according to Amandi’s surveys. His recent research shows that Rubio and Cruz are not necessarily favorite sons at the ballot box. Rubio, who opposes easing the U.S. embargo against Cuba, ‘is literally advocating for policies that separate the more recent arrivals from their families who are still on the island,’ Amandi said.” Washington Post, April 12th.
The GOP might get the “old guy” vote on this position alone, but that hardly defines the bulk of that Cuban-American vote. As Americans, these ethnically Cubanistas are as concerned with so many other issues that even if there is a catering to ancient Cuban mantras to garner the Hispanic vote is likely to have less impact than the GOP might hope.
Just ask Mike Val­des, 38, who owns Moda, a high-end boutique in which Spanish is used as the main language: “[R]elations with Cuba don’t make Valdes’s political top-10 list. The Rubio and Cruz candidacies ‘put us on the map, finally for something other than Castro, rum or Cohibas,’ he said, referring to the brand of cigars. ‘There’s a lot of problems in this country,’ he said. ‘We need to do for us before we start doing for other places.’ Valdes remains a Republican because that’s how he was brought up, but he’s okay with Obama’s outreach to Cuba and looks forward to normalized trade and travel.
“‘Our grandparents’ generation is passing on, and my generation doesn’t really know their stories,’ Valdes said. ‘Our Cuban part is there when you need it, but we’re losing the accents and the language. Soon, the Cubans will just be Miamians. Eventually, they’ll knock down the Freedom Tower [a Miami symbolic anti-Castro building built to help escapees currently housing an art museum] and nobody will remember what it meant.’” The Post.
How do Cubans feel about it all? “The diplomatic thaw between the United States and Cuba has been accompanied by an unexpected outburst of flag-waving here — of the American flag… The Stars and Stripes has been spotted on apartment buildings and bicycle taxis. It splays across T-shirts and bandannas. On tight spandex pants, its pattern swirls around many a leg. Even a few car air fresheners bear its likeness (with a vanilla scent)… ‘I am seeing things in Cuba I thought I would never see,’ said one middle-age man, ogling a young woman’s nearly painted-on flag pants.” New York Times, April 13th.
Indeed, in some ways this American internal schism in old, anti-Castro sentiments versus Obama’s current efforts fly in the face of American businesses, stalwart GOP supporters and who are currently excluded from seeking Cuban business opportunities, as they watch idly as Canadian and European companies are all over Cuba looking for deals, as the above picture from a Havana trade fair suggests. Hey, folks, it’s time!
I’m Peter Dekom, and mining the politics of the distant past does not serve the best interests of the American people for the future.

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