Cuban-American congressmen swimming upstream


By: Wallace Mendel

In a context marked by the increasing interest of favoring rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, including the end of the embargo imposed for more than a century on the Island, a group of Cuban-American congressmen are still clinging to a policy qualified long time ago as wrong and ineffective.

El congresista estadounidense Mario Díaz-Balart.

Cuban American congressman Mario Diaz-Balart

Various generations of Cubans, including emigrants as well as children and grandchildren of those who migrated decades ago, are increasingly seeking contact with the land that gave birth to them or to their close relatives.

Travels, remittances and phone calls are part of the scenario; perhaps nothing illustrates as much as those 475 thousand who visited Cuba in 2012, though.

In addition, the voices of those who favor normalizing the ties between Havana and Washington is increasing in the United States, with different views raging from those against a hostile policy towards the island to those ready to do business, including those  betting for other methods to overthrow the Revolution of January,1959.

A recent study by Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, belonging to the Atlantic Council thinking tank, revealed that 56 percent of Americans supports a change in the policy towards Cuba.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

The authors of the investigation claim that this is the feeling throughout the Union, regardless of political affiliation; although among democrats and independents there is a greater interest in rapprochement, 52 percent of republicans share this position.

Even in Florida, the traditional stronghold of the sworn enemies of the Government of the Caribbean Island and home to most of Cuban emigrants and Cuban-Americans, people favoring the change reach a 63 percent.

“Florida, the state that allegedly has the greatest reluctance to reengage with Cuba, is now more willing than an already supportive country”, said the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

Common and known people agree to convene a new bilateral panorama, either to strengthen family bonds or to explore the business world.

“One day we hope that the United States and Cuba would find a way so the whole Cuban community could be able to live and work together” said sugar magnate Alfonso “Alfy” Fanjul to the Washington Post.

Fanjul left Cuba when he was young, in the wake of the overthrown of Fulgencio Batista by rebels led by Fidel Castro.

According to the paper, the former sponsor of the Miami-based crusade against the authorities of the Island, the billionaire, revealed his trips to Cuba on February 2012 and April 2013, to meet his family, without ruling out the idea of exploring expansion possibilities for him and U.S.businessmen.

“The Fanjul family was in Cuba for 150 years, and, yes, at the end of the day, I’d like to see our family back on Cuba, where we started… But it has to be under the right circumstances,” explained the magnate residing in Palm Beach.

According to the Washington Post, after returning from his trip, Fanjul met with his good friend, then-Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to express his changing views on Cuba.

Upon learning about such travels, traitor and shameless were among the adjectives put forth by Cuban-American congress members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Díaz Balart, both republican representatives from Florida.

Also Republican Senator Marco Rubio from Sunshine State rejected any change towards the Island, in response to the survey made by the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council.

Rubio also attack his fellow democrat from Iowa Tom Harkin, who, after a three-day stay in Cuba, praised its achievements in terms of public health, like low infant mortality rate and the life expectancy.

In Cuban-American congressmen’s views, there is no position regarding the island other than the embargo, the inclusion of Havana in the list of sponsors of terrorism or the accusation of violating human rights.

Their position is to criticize any attempt of rapprochement, even though the claim comes from the majority of Florida residents, or even if their acts involve keeping families of both sides of the Florida Strait apart.

In an interview published on March 4, Mario Díaz Balart told Damien Cave from the New York Times that the embargo should continue and that the survey by the Atlantic Council is an absolute lie.

The congressman denied the changes in the Island, which have opened opportunities for private initiatives to nearly half million Cubans and avoided an awkward question by Cave: … some would argue that Cubans, now with the new travel law, have an easier time getting to the United Stated than Americans have getting to Cuba?

The laws of the embargo imposed on the Island prevent Americans from traveling to Cuba, except for the cases with licenses issued by the Treasury Department, which includes requirements.

While during the Obama Administration the so-called people-to-people exchanges with cultural and educational purposes increased since 2011, OFAC made it clear that it could not be construed as promoting tourism to the GreatestIsland of the Antilles, in reference to the travel ban fully in force.

Díaz Balart led the question from the journalist of The New York Times to the most confortable spot for him: criticizing Obama for the alleged loosening of the embargo.

“Well, some would argue that with the loosening of Obama regulations it has been pretty easy to get to Cuba and has been abused rather extensively…”

On the other hand, he argued that the figure of 400 thousand Cuban-Americans who visited the Island is not real, and reiterated that the increasing of the travels of that sector resulted from the flexibility of Obama administration.

The predecessor of the first black in the White House, George W. Bush, had imposed severe limitations to family reunions and remittances issue despite the latter is something closely linked to migration in every corner of the planet.

In Cuba, Obama’s relaxation in terms of family travels and remittances is recognized; those exceeded the scenario imposed by W. Bush. However, the embargo remains the same; rather, it has been strengthened in its financial dimension, expressed in the pursuit of transactions and billionaire fines to U.S. and foreign entities for their operations with Cuba.

Let’s wait to see whether the 44th president in the history of the United States in his second term listens to the increasing voices within the U.S. society asking for a change in the policy towards Cuba, or decides to go down in history as the eleventh hostile administration to the small Caribbean Island and the tenth in sustaining the embargo…

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