Fidel’s fad­ing but what’s next? Cuban ex­ile vote is up for grabs

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID R. SANDS

For the first time since the Kennedy ad­min­is­tra­tion, the next U.S. pres­i­dent won’t have Cuban Pres­i­dent Fidel Cas­tro to deal with when he takes of­fice in Jan­uary.

Nev­er­the­less, Repub­li­can Sen. John McCain and Demo­crat Sen. Barack Obama have clashed sharply over a post-Fidel pol­icy and on the wis­dom of eas­ing the nearly 50-year-old em­bargo on the is­land. The fight is spilling over — once again — into pol­i­tics across the Straits of Florida, where three Cuban-born Repub­li­can House mem­bers face strong chal­lenges in Novem­ber.

Democrats have set their sights on Repub­li­can in­cum­bents Rep. Ileana Ros-Le­hti­nen in the 18th District, Rep. Lin­coln-Diaz-Balart in the 21st District and his brother Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart in the 25th District — all born in Cuba and stal­warts of the fiercely anti-Cas­tro Cuban-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity.

A key ques­tion in the con­tests is whether younger Cuban-Amer­i­cans and non-Cuban His­pan­ics will em­brace the un­com­pro­mis­ing stands long fa­vored by the older gen­er­a­tion of Cuban ex­iles, said David Wasser­man, who an­a­lyzes House races for the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port. He says the Diaz-Balart broth­ers face es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult races.

The mar­quee matchup, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Wasser­man, pits Lin­coln Diaz-Balart against fel­low Cuban na­tive and for­mer Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez. Dogged in the past by ethics in­ves­ti­ga­tions, Mr. Martinez has proved him­self to have a pop­ulist touch and boasts a strong po­lit­i­cal base in Hialeah.

“Peo­ple in Wash­ing­ton tend to think all th­ese races will turn on Cuba is­sues ex­clu­sively,” Mr. Wasser­man said. “The three Demo­cratic candidates are on a mis­sion to prove that that is false, that the econ­omy, the war in Iraq, the Bush record also mat­ter.”

With Mr. Diaz-Balart and Mr. Martinez both tough, ex­pe­ri­enced cam­paign­ers, “the race in the 21st District might be one of the ugli­est in the coun­try,” he pre­dicted. “We will see a race that op­er­ates in a dif­fer­ent uni­verse from the oth­ers we’re watch­ing.”

In the pres­i­den­tial fight, Mr. McCain has touted his “mav­er­ick” im­age, but he is unequiv­o­cally back­ing the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hard line in sup­port of the em­bargo, ac­cus­ing Mr. Obama of naivete in think­ing new Pres­i­dent Raul Cas­tro, Fidel Cas­tro’s 77-yearold younger brother, presents an op­por­tu­nity for a new pol­icy tack.

Mr. McCain’s views “have been to­tally con­sis­tent,” said Adolfo Franco, a top spokesman on Latin Amer­i­can is­sues for the cam­paign, at a packed brief­ing on Cuban is­sues late last week at the In­terAmer­i­can Di­a­logue. “A pariah state like Cuba should not be re- warded un­til it makes a demon­stra­ble com­mit­ment to­ward democ­racy, and that hasn’t hap­pened.”

Dan Restrepo, a se­nior fel­low on Latin Amer­i­can is­sues at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress and a spokesman for the Obama cam­paign, ar­gued that the long em­bargo had failed to un­der­mine the Cas­tro regime and it was time for a new ap­proach.

“We cer­tainly should not re­ward the re­pres­sive regime in Cuba, and main­tain­ing a pol­icy that hasn’t worked for 50 years is a re­ward,” he said. “We can­not con­tinue do­ing more of the same and some­how ex­pect a dif­fer­ent re­sult.”

Mr. Restrepo said Mr. Obama would roll back lim­its im­posed by Mr. Bush on Cuban-Amer­i­cans send­ing money back to their fam­i­lies on the is­land and on travel to Cuba. The re­stric­tions have been un­pop­u­lar with many CubanAmer­i­cans in south­ern Florida, who have proved a crit­i­cal vot­ing bloc in one of the na­tion’s premier swing states.

More am­bi­tiously, Mr. Obama would be ready to “start down the road to nor­mal­iza­tion” if Raul Cas­tro’s gov­ern­ment re­leases un­con­di­tion­ally all of the regime’s po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, Mr. Restrepo said. Dur­ing the Demo­cratic pri­mary de­bates, Mr. Obama listed Mr. Cas­tro along with Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad and Venezue­lan leader Hugo Chavez as hos­tile for­eign leaders with whom he would be pre­pared to meet dur­ing his first year in of­fice if he thought it would ad­vance U.S. in­ter­ests.

“That’s not re­ward­ing the regime. It’s a case of not be­ing afraid to use the bully pul­pit,” Mr. Restrepo in­sisted.

Mr. Adolfo, how­ever, coun­tered that Raul Cas­tro had in­tro­duced only mi­nor “win­dow-dress­ing” re­forms since suc­ceed­ing his brother in mid-2006 and that U.S. con­ces­sions would be a “colos­sal mis­take.”

“It would in Sen. McCain’s view be a tragedy at the twi­light of this regime that we ac­tu­ally would sit down without pre­con­di­tions and re­ward the Cas­tro broth­ers,” he said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.