Gore Vidal in Empire:
The black eyes were as quick as the wit; and the swift smile was both frank and agreeably murderous. “If you really want the Philippines,” said Hay, “you can have them. I’ve got too much time on my hands as it is.”
“I don’t want them, dear fellow. I’ve got enough with Cuba.” Root lit a cigar. “In fact, I’ve told the President that State should have all our island possessions. War just isn’t suited to run a peacetime colonial government. Of course, Cuba isn’t really a colony.” Root frowned. “I wish we could think of a better word than ‘possession’ for our…”
“Possessions?” Hay smiled; the pains in the back were in remission. A summer in New Hampshire had restored if not his weary soul his spinal column. “We must face what they are.”
“I’ve just divided Cuba into four military districts, rather the way we did the South in 1865. In due course, we’ll come home, but then what happens in Cuba?”
Whatever else Fidel Castro proved that a former vassal state to the United States could have the potency of a symbol long after the country had turned into a sieve, leaking the disenchanted and the persecuted and the bored. The Republic of Cuba was a Potemkin village of a democracy, a colony in all but name even after attaining its sovereignty in 1902. Senate passage of the Platt Amendment ensured that Cuba’s fate was in the hands of el yanqui who sat in the White House. Calvin Coolidge visited the island in the twenties. A decade later, dissatisfaction with Gerardo Machado prompted FDR to send confidante Sumner Welles as special envoy, theoretically to talk Machado into not doing anything that might provoke the United States into enforcing the Platt Amendment; this move destabilized Machado’s government enough to force his resignation.
Roosevelt’s man in the State Department until a homosexual incident involving a Pullman car porter made support untenable, Welles had most to do with where the country was headed than any person, Cuban or American. Professing fealty to democratic processes, Welles never stopped reminding a half dozen Cuban presidents who was boss; he wielded his ever-present cane like a scepter. I excerpted the Vidal passage above because Welles and his turn of the century predecessors John Hay and Elihu Root were part of the same lineage. This feudal lord refused to recognize Ramon Grau San Martin’s government after Grau rescinded the loathed Platt Amendment (an earlier four-month presidential term in 1933 ended when Fulgencio Batista and Welles whisked him out of office). Nevertheless, under Grau Cuba enjoyed its longest sustained peace; the Constitution of 1940 is among the most liberal documents produced in the Western Hemisphere, guaranteeing maternity leave and a minimum wage as fundamental rights. Then in a 1952 coup d’état Batista seized power.
Thus began the most ignoble chapter in Cuba’s history, augured by Conrad’s Nostromo and immortalized in Our Man in Havana and The Godfather, Part II. His bag men would nightly collect their takes from casinos for eventual deposit in Batista’s Swiss bank accounts. Before sponsoring their own wave of Monroe Doctrine-indebted guerilla war, Senator Kennedy denounced the gift of a solid gold telephone — boy, do Americans love kitsch — by ITT Corporation to Batista, “an expression of gratitude for the excessive telephone rate increase which the Cuban dictator had granted at the urging of our government.”
In the reflection I published today, I called Fidel an aberration and a culmination, like another figure recently elected. He was the twentieth century’s longest lived caudillo, a rebuke to American impotence in the age when Arbenz, Mossadegh, and Lumumba were removed or forced out by Americans (Aquino, Noriega, Saddam would join them). However, too many leftists have a received knowledge of suffering. His support for black African movements compensates for the degree to which black Cubans are not much better off than before the revolution: if the goal is reducing black and white Cubans to a shared vague hunger, then the revolution was a success (Nelson Mandela ended the bigger, nobler man). I’ve written thousands of words on the hypocrisy, propensity for violence, and appetite for power shown by Miami’s Cuban exile elite, but one thing is true: many of them are acquainted with the night. Uncles jailed for ten years for making casual anti-revolution remarks at the University of Havana. Police lighting a man’s books on fire. The regime’s encouragement prostitution at every level; the whole soceity was on the take. Neighborhood informants to this day. People standing in line for soap and eggs for hours. The drudgery of routine in a totalitarian state, about which Czeslaw Milosz’s The Captive Mind was so keen.
The mild awe in which Castro is held by the left is the most pernicious example of the perils of false equivalence. Fidel’s police arrested and jailed men for being suspected of homosexuality? The Reagan administration let men and women die for years. Castro supported the wrong left wing causes around the world? See my sentences above about Arbenz, Sumner Welles, and the rest. I respond thusly: the measure of a society is how we treat dissent. If you opposed fidelismo at its peak, you got a beating at best and worst jail time — for years — in an arbitrary judicial system. When Castro let hundreds of thousands of Cubans leave through Mariel harbor in 1980, he said the following:
He who has no revolutionary genes, he who has no revolutionary blood, he who does not have a mind that adapt to the idea of a revolution, he who does not have a heart that can adapt to the effort of heroism required by a revolution: We do not want them; we do not need them. [cheers and applause] And at any rate, they are an insignificant part of the people, because what the imperialists do not want, what they want to hide, what hurts them to acknowledge are some truths. For instance, that there is no revolution with the mass strength of the Cuban revolution. [applause] There is no revolution, that is, our revolution; well, it is not good to make comparisons; it is not good. But, the mass strength, the moral strength, the political strength, the ideological strength of the revolution is tremendous. And when it is put to the test, you saw the 19 April march; you see this rally today. But it is not only numbers that count. You can see the quality and the spirit of the people. [applause]
I see no largess of spirit, nor generosity; I read the boilerplate of the dreariest sort of ideologue, a boor and a bore with bayonets ready to expel his countrymen on a whim. He doesn’t see these people as humans; they’re pawns of something he calls imperialism that stands for opposition to Fidel. Revolutions matter little if they kill their heirs. I question the good of universal health care and literacy in a country that for a few decades was an abattoir.
My Cuban brethren haven’t recovered from the collapse of the campaign of Marco Rubio, the plankton with a hairpiece who ran for president last spring and faces an unexpectedly close reelection to the legislative body he despises. Nevertheless, plenty will vote for the Republican candidate, a boob named Donald J. Trump who will lose even more soundly than Rubio. For fifty-two years Cubans have sat in thousands of back rooms and followed sunburned northerners into Cafe Versailles who insist on sugar-free cafecitos. They have been CIA dupes. They have been burglars. They led mobs for the purpose of disrupting ballot counting. The reward? Suffering in silence as a nominal Republican who wiped his ass with the Cuban embargo speaks to them in English sentences less complex than a cockatoo’s.
Trump paid tribute to Bay of Pigs veterans who had honored him with a historic endorsement.
He listened to the mother of Brothers to the Rescue pilot shot down by the Cuban government over the Florida Straits.
“Very sad story,” Trump told Miriam de la Pena.
And he eagerly repeated criticism of rival Hillary Clinton when longtime Miami Republican donor and activist Remedios Diaz-Oliver declared, “She has never done anything right.”
“It’s just about true,” Trump said. “She’s never done a thing right. Bad judgment.”
Trump’s overtures reflected his broader problem two weeks from Election Day: He has yet to consolidate the conservative vote. The more time he spends trying to do so, the less time he’s got to try to persuade independents and moderates who decide general elections.
Polls show Clinton holding on to a 3-percentage-point lead over Trump in Florida, according to a Real Clear Politics average. Depending on the survey, Cuban Americans have been either split or only narrowly favoring Trump.
I can imagine the disgust, draining like pus, as these accomplished men listened to this charlatan patronize them. In ordinary circumstances I feel no pity for men and woman confronted with the depths of their cynicism, but when these people die with them goes the dream of a Cuba that never existed.
Not that these poll results surprise me. How these results correlate with the presidential election we’ll learn soon enough; however, if legal residents could vote I suspect Hillary Clinton would demolish Trump because they fear that Trump will at best end “wet food dry foot” and at worse treat them as he would the Mexicans who aren’t, like Cubans, beneficiaries of the most humane and far-reaching immigration posture in American history. Anyway:
For the first time in the poll’s history, a clear majority of respondents — 54 percent — also wants to end the Cuban embargo, compared to 32 percent who want to keep it (14 percent don’t know or wouldn’t say). The last time FIU conducted the poll, in 2014, respondents were against the embargo by 45-41 percent, with 12 percent in the don’t-know/wouldn’t-answer category.
Asked if the embargo was successful, 55 percent said it wasn’t “at all.” Only 17 percent said it worked well or very well, with 19 percent saying it had worked “not very well.”
This being a presidential election year, the pollsters also tried to gauge the popularity of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump among local Cubans. They favored Trump by 36-31 percent, though that number is somewhat stale because the survey was conducted from July 11-Aug. 12.
Still, that result — slightly inside the poll’s error margin of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points — indicates trouble for Trump among Cuban Americans, the most Republican-leaning of all Hispanic voters.
“Cubans have never given so little support to the Republican candidate,” Grenier said. His finding echoes a survey conducted earlier this year by Republican pollster Dario Moreno, who feared Trump’s candidacy would drive Miami-Dade Cubans out of the GOP.
Of FIU’s respondents, 54 percent were Republican, 22 percent Democrat and 25 percent independent. Most respondents who arrived in the U.S. before 1980 and 1994 are Republican; the pollsters differentiated among three major waves of Cuban immigration to South Florida.
I’ve written a lot about Cuba. I expect to write more. In the next twenty years, the chances are high that I’ll visit — why wouldn’t I? Fidel isn’t Yoda. Apart from natural curiosity about an ancestral home, I’m curious as hell about Cuba’s economic history: whether the Western Hemisphere will see a diminutive example of Chinese state-run capitalism, which is to say authoritarian capitalism. The regime arrested fifty dissidents while Barack Obama was on the island. If none of my liberal friends regard capitalism as a panacea, then I don’t understand how it might mollify human rights abuses on the island because thawing relations was a necessary step.
My grandmother retired twenty-five years ago from an American career in Health and Human Services. Recruited to work for the Cuban Refugee Program on emigrating to Miami in 1961, she parlayed her administrative skills into the food stamps program. For the next quarter century, through transfers to Homestead and North Miami, surviving a mugging on the I-95 entrance on Northwest Seventy-Ninth Street, she must have distributed a few million dollars in aid. JFK and LBJ signed the Cuban Refugee Program and Cuban Adjustment Act into law; I suspect President Goldwater would have eschewed his principles and signed them too.
I mention these facts because I get asked why Cubans are the only powerful Hispanic group in the United States that has voted for the GOP with redoubtable consistency since the sixties. To mention Kennedy’s “betrayal” — accepting the Cuban flag from Bay of Pigs veterans of Brigade 2506 while Jackie Kennedy charmed the screaming crowd with dinner table Spanish — is to give too facile a reading. As a general rule Cubans like winners. They relish intrigue. To a Cuban winning and intrigue are inseparable. What Virgilio R. Gonzales and Eugenio R. Martinez were doing breaking into the Watergate Hotel in June 1972 was inspired by a farcical notion of patriotism: if we break a few laws, maybe the president himself will give the Cuba problem another look. After all his best friend, insofar as Nixon had friends instead of toadies, was Bebe Rebozo, the son of Cuban immigrants. Nixon’s valet? Manolo Sanchez – Cuban.
It’s important to remember that between LBJ and Bill Clinton we Americans had elected only one Democrat to the White House, and in the eyes of many Cubans the man from Plains, Georgia did not conduct himself in a manner becoming an occupant of the Lincoln Bedroom; he didn’t comport himself like one of his immediate predecessors who, in a froth, ordered the defoliation of a sovereign country and whose lackeys burgled the psychiatrist as a result of a minor political threat. Jimmy Carter wore cardigans. He raised the thermostat. He looked miserable. He let his daughter roller skate in the Oval Office. The Mariel boat lift inspires a fascinating congeries of impressions: grateful to see relatives again, the first wave of Cubans regard the release of thousands of Cubans into Florida Bay in 1980 as the kind of embarrassment that inspires stammers and changes of subject; their relatives came with riff-raff, their relatives were riff-raff.
Because Jimmy Carter didn’t posture as convincingly as his presidential colleagues, Cubans who were citizens voted for Ronald Wilson Reagan — “I became a Republican thanks to Ronald Reagan,” my grandmother said not long ago. The man who made her a Republican sought in his first term to eviscerate the programs she had worked twenty years to build. South Florida’s biggest local legend Claude Pepper fought back. The Reagan administration reeled. My grandmother drove my sister and me to Aventura Mall. Meanwhile the reelection of Reagan increased the patriotic tumult. Joan Didion’s Miami, published in the mid ’80s, captures the city as the combination of drug money, paramilitary operatives, and local personalities with NSA and White House connections. Perhaps now something was going happen.
In the nineties Cubans could still pick winners and comers. Jose Mas Canosa, the scion of the exile movement’s political wing, gave Bill Clinton his blessing. Events took their course: more people fleeing the island nation in 1994, Cuban planes shooting down Brothers to the Rescue pilots, the modification to the Cuban Adjustment Act known as “wet foot, dry foot.” The worst act of betrayal in Cuban American eyes, however, occurred in April 2000 when federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez after the government ran out of patience. It’s at this point that I realized our national image. When Americans in Portland or Dubuque watched national news, they’d see Gloria Estefan and Andy Garcia holding hands around the domicile where Elian lived temporarily. Although not the first time my parents and I differed on Cuban politics, I never felt so isolated. Choosing where to make a last stand creates its own momentum. The consequences were long foreseen: Elian would be reunited with his father, Al Gore would pay a heavy price.
The last gasp of the exile elite occurred during the Bush years. Otto Reich, responsible for “disinformation” and psy ops in Central America during the Reagan years, earned a government salary again.Bloggers got invited to the White House. Meanwhile American citizens like my father, a Miami resident since he was a boy of 10 in 1961, realized that the last fifty years had been an elaborate con. “Fun and games, man, fun and games,” Joe Pesci’s David Ferrie barks in the most trenchant line Oliver Stone wrote in JFK. In the minds of successive presidential administrations Fidel Castro was a person of vague awfulness and Cubans could turn out the vote, beneficiaries of the most compassionate and encompassing immigration and naturalization policy in U.S. history. “We were products of the Cold War,” he has said more than once without sadness.
Now, products of memory. Cubans can’t forget the broken promises. They can’t let go of the hate, and Cubans hate deeply and inexorably. Bill Clinton they hate, therefore his wife must not be elected. They may dismiss Donald Trump as el imbecil but he’s not Hillary Clinton. Nothing speaks to the success of the Cuban emigration and subsequent integration than the degree to which their views and a political party dating back to 1860’s have become indistinguishable
Hillary Clinton is so much more popular than Donald Trump among Miami-Dade County voters that even a significant number of Republicans support her in the likely presidential match-up, a new local poll has found.
Clinton leads Trump by a whopping 52-25 percent, with 23 percent of respondents undecided, according to the poll by Bendixen & Amandi International for the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald, WLRN and Univision 23.
One-fifth of Republicans said they back Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has yet to garner a GOP majority, with 48 percent of Republicans saying they’d back him and nearly a third undecided.
“This should be an early sign of potential concern and worry for the Trump campaign,” said pollster Fernand Amandi, a Democrat who is not working for any presidential campaign. “If she gets 20 percent of Republican voters statewide, it’s going to be a very early night on Nov. 8.”
I’ve discussed the subtleties and gradations of the Cuban American vote since 2012; many of these gradations are influenced by aging, not policy, and for me they’ve been a leitmotif. But if I can indulge in generalizations, Cubans are martyrs for Cuba but channel their zealotry into the kind of short term victories that have made them a national force since 1960. If they suffer fools, they make the fool aware that they’re suffering. Cubans in my grandmother’s generation who aren’t in their dotage understand they’ve lost; they’ve watched the Carnival Adonia cross the Florida Straits into Havana Harbor. Some like my grandmother herself have wondered when she can book passage (she, alas, is in her dotage). In other words, Cuban Americans comprising el exilio clásico will vote for Hillary because they believe in boarding Hindenburgs at a time of their choosing.
This excerpt goes to my friends in the continental United States who ask what South Florida politics are like after the Obama-Castro opening. Here’s the history:
Three decades ago, the prospect of a U.S. president making any sort of overture to Cuba — and repudiating Miami’s Cuban-American stalwarts — would have been unthinkable.
Jorge Mas Canosa, a businessman and immigrant from Santiago de Cuba, created the Cuban American National Foundation, giving exiles a united voice in Washington. Following the blueprint of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the foundation adopted a pragmatic approach: Support politicians on the right side of the Cuba issue, regardless of party affiliation.
Mas Canosa had the ear of President Ronald Reagan, and the foundation’s power grew as the first generation of Cuban Americans rose to prominence. In New Jersey, it was a Democrat, now-Sen. Bob Menendez (who was succeeded in the House by a fellow Cuban-American, Rep. Albio Sires). In Florida, it was Republicans. Ros-Lehtinen. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Mario Diaz-Balart. Mel Martinez. Sen. Marco Rubio. David Rivera. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.
President after president heard them out, even Democrat Bill Clinton (“Oh my gosh, you better believe it, President Clinton would consult with us,” Ros-Lehtinen said), though his positions worried Cuban Americans so much they codified the trade embargo — then a 32-old executive policy — into law with the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996. Now only Congress could undo the sanctions.
My congressman, several years younger than I, holds the following position:
“No one took my home,” he said. “My grandfather was tortured in political prison — that’s the reason I won’t go to Cuba while Raúl and Fidel are in power — but I don’t consider it una traición [a betrayal] to go. I believe people who have lived in misery for decades, anything that could represent a change for the better, they’ll grasp onto. Unfortunately, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”
I don’t applaud Carlos Curbelo’s courage in normal circumstances. Before the 2010 census my district was run for years by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who thanks to personal reasons and geography had to support gay rights (and was at the time the only GOP member of the House LGBTQ caucus). Young Cuban men who attend Belen Jesuit Preparatory School don’t usually defy, in my experience, the masters who train them to assume control of the Miami Dade County power structure. But Curbelo’s lines are primary words; in any other district he’d be facing a battle as a result of his apostasy. This demonstrates the degree to which things have changed. He knows the constituents in his district look like the young men and women around my condo pool: twenty- and thirtysomethings for whom battles about who wants to deal with the regime are like reading about the Bulge and the Sommes.
As I’ve driven through Miami this weekend and spoken to friends and relatives, many uneasy and vaguely dejected, I have to remember I had no illusions about the renewal of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. If Nixon could ignore Mao’s extermination of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens during the Cultural Revolution, then Barack Obama could ignore fifty-three years of enmity and the Ladies in White for the sake of Starwood hotels:
Counter-protesters and police broke up an anti-government demonstration in Havana hours before U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for his historic visit.
About 300 government backers surrounded about 50 members and backers of the Ladies in White group shouting insults and revolutionary slogans. There was some shoving back and forth.
The women were taken into custody by female police officers and loaded onto buses in an operation that lasted about 10 minutes. In such cases, protesters are typically are detained for a few hours and then released.
The number of protesters, counter-protesters and police appeared to be about the same as in past incidents, which take place in the Cuban capital each Sunday after the Ladies attend Catholic Mass, march silently along 5th Avenue and then join other dissidents to try to march into a residential neighborhood.
These protests and arrests have happened under the full glare of international media, for which I’m grateful; this casual disregard for peaceful public protest has a hallmark of the Castro regime since the early sixties. For the sake of the president’s visit, moreover, the official government whitewashing has begun, to mixed results:
For decades, Cuban officials have treated every interaction with the United States as a test of sovereignty, and their approach to Mr. Obama’s visit is partly an effort to project competence, confidence and a new commitment to calibrated friendship.
The propaganda has already changed. Billboards lashing imperialism a few months ago now denounce violence against women, mosquitoes or laziness. And beautification is suddenly competing with decay…
…“Everyone wants to know how we Cubans feel about Obama coming,” said Yamile Suárez, 36, shrugging near a repaved road in central Havana. “I’m frankly just happy that giant pothole finally got filled in, so if I have him to thank for it, thanks Obama!”
I want to repeat: the inevitability of the thaw means that the free market, to which Republicans like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Diaz-Balart brothers, and Marco Rubio pledge their troth, gives not a damn for the protestations of the powerless. It’s possible that the continued clout of the Cuban American delegation in Congress will keep reminding Barack Obama and his successor of the human rights violations like the Chinese American lobby in the seventies could not. But the march forward creates its own momentum.
For a while in the nineties when my political awareness remained stuck in a pupal stage I heard relatives wonder why the hell the United States couldn’t invade Cuba already? We took out Noriega. We kept the Contras awash in money. In 1994 we sent Jimmy Carter, Sam Nunn, and Colin Powell to talk Raul Cejas into abdicating power in Haiti. Thoughts turned, as is their wont in Miami, to the conspiratorial. Castro must still have nukes, and he’s pointing them at Miami and Washington. I heard this a lot in the waning years of the Clinton administration. When it did “nothing” after Cuban MIGs shot down Brothers to the Rescue planes that may or may not have flown over Cuban airspace, the path towards the Elian Gonzalez debacle and the Brooks Brothers riot cleared. Cuban Americans forget that Jorge Mas Canosa, self-appointed president of a free Cuba, endorsed Bill Clinton in 1992, and if there was ever a moment when an reexamination of Cuban-Americanr relations looked right it was after the Soviet Union’s disintegration, triggering the euphemistically named Special Period (a movie I just reviewed, The King of Havana, takes a look at the abjectness of the situation).
Now we arrive at Wednesday’s Univision debate, during which a video of a handsome young man interviewing a scowling long-haired Bernie Sanders in 1985 reveals that the future senator from Vermont gave Fidel Castro a few compliments. Clinton’s response was so quick and assured that of course it must have been rehearsed:
“You know,” said the former secretary of state, “if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere.”
Glenn Greenwald shakes his head:
t seems that, overnight, Clinton and her supporters have decided that Sanders’ opposition to Reagan-era wars against Latin American governments and rebel groups — a common liberal position at the time — is actually terribly wrong and something worthy of demonization rather than admiration, because those governments and groups abused human rights. Whatever else one might say about this mimicking of right-wing agitprop, Hillary Clinton for years has been one of the world’s most stalwart friends of some of the world’s worst despots and war criminals, making her and her campaign a very odd vessel for demonizing others for their links to and admiration of human-rights abusers.
Although Greenwald concentrates on her record in the Middle East, Karen Attiah points out her deplorable record in the Western Hemisphere, governed by the Monroe Doctrine whose mention during a debate must count as a first.
A product of obscene and impassioned arguments by rightly embittered Cuban-born men and women, I cringe on instinct when I hear even measured praise of Cuban medicine and literacy efforts; as I wrote on Wednesday, until recently a Cuban couldn’t find much worth reading besides the dreariness of state-approved texts, and who needs health care when you can’t find a goddamn clean needle? A part of me applauds Clinton’s impassioned gibberish when I forget she took credit for initializing the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States.
Eighty-eight years ago, an American president visited Cuba to remind the viceroy of its fertile island who was boss:
In 1928, Mr. Coolidge and his wife, Grace, boarded a train in Washington and rode for 40 hours to Key West, Fla., where they switched to the battleship Texas for the crossing to Havana, a trip that took two days. They were greeted at the port by Gerardo Machado, Cuba’s president, and his wife. The couple would host the Coolidges at the presidential palace in Havana and a country home nearby, feting them with two lavish banquets and accompanying them to a jai alai match and a sugar plantation.
Machado gave Coolidge a Panama hat, and there was much speculation about how the American president, whose country was in the midst of Prohibition, would navigate the etiquette challenge of being offered a drink of Cuban rum. (He simply turned his back and pretended to be talking to Machado when approached with a tray of daiquiris, one journalist recounted.)
News reports at the time indicated that Coolidge, known as Silent Cal for his taciturn demeanor, visibly enjoyed himself. To the Cubans, The Times reported, “he now is a smiling, and not a cold and silent, president.”
In keeping with the rejection of the daiquiri, Coolidge reminded Machado with doublespeak of who was the sovereign of the Western hemisphere:
Coolidge’s trip was in part an attempt to defuse the anger of Latin American leaders about American policy in their region. In his address, he spoke of “an attitude of peace and good will” in the hemisphere, in which small nations are respected. “Today, Cuba is her own sovereign,” he said, calling the country “a complete demonstration of the progress we are making.”
But Coolidge did not use his visit to tackle the thorniest grievances souring the American relationship with Cuba. He made no mention of the Platt Amendment, which he was unwilling to modify despite Cuba’s entreaties, nor did he change his position on keeping the heavy tariffs the United States imposed on the island’s sugar, as Machado had asked him to.
No one has ever praised Silent Cal for flexibility. Or Machado for mercy. Until Fulgencio Batista wrested power from Carlos Prío Socarrás in 1952 no Cuban president ever displayed such a disregard for human life: arrests, torture, disappearances (Fidel Castro would surpass them both). But this period in Cuba history shows the footprints of American ambassadors, notably Sumner Welles’, ambassador to Cuba and Franklin Roosevelt’s personal friend (and the State Department paladin to whom he turned when Cordell Hull interfered). It was Welles’ machinations with Batista and the military that undercut support for Ramón Grau San Martín’s first term in office. Cuba wags claim Batista’s coup in 1952 made Fidel Castro possible. So did the whims of Calvin Coolidge, Sumner Welles, and every administration going back to McKinley’s.
And so it happens:
Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, himself a Cuban American, filed a bill to amend existing federal law that treats all Cuban arrivals as refugees or political asylees — meaning they are entitled to food stamps, Medicaid, disability insurance and other assistance.
Under his proposal, which Curbelo cast as a matter of fairness, Cubans would be treated like immigrants from most other countries, who are required to file a refugee or asylum claim — and wait years for it to be approved — before qualifying for special benefits. Only Haitian immigrants, already treated like Cubans under the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980, would continue to be exempted upon legal arrival in the U.S.
“Cubans coming to the United States will have the same opportunity as immigrants from other nations like Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Central America — from any country — to work and earn an honest living while contributing to our great nation,” Curbelo said in a web video released Tuesday to explain his proposal. “Like asylum seekers from all over the world, those Cubans seeking public assistance benefits will have to demonstrate that they left Cuba fleeing political persecution and are unable to return under the current totalitarian regime.”
My congressman, hoping to avoid the one terme limbo in which David Rivera and Joe Garcia swap stories, strives for a Nixon in China moment. Thanks to the Cold War, Cubans have been the beneficiaries of the most generous refugee policy in the country’s history. And there’s an awful lot of fraud (the Sun Sentinel wrote a multi part story a few months ago you should look up). With the Cold War gone, the policy deserves reexamination.
It’ll win him good will from my parents’ generation, sick of hearing neighbors and babysitters boast about the welfare checks they collect living in Cuba while affirming the specialness of the “historic exile.” It’ll win him good will from liberals who’ve decried the policy’s exclusiveness. And it’ll win him good will from fiscal conservative types worried about the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on people who will likely vote for Democrats. Because Obama will get the blame for signing it, Curbelo and the GOP win.
The Cuban exodus of the early sixties resulted from the Castro regime’s disinterest in life, liberty, and property — a trinity sacred to Americans too and bequeathed to this quasi-vassal state. I may find Cuban Americans my grandmother’s age who dream of reclaiming purloined homes and businesses, and I understand that it would serve as redress. This same woman had relatives who got home from work to find armed soldiers in the driveway seizing the joint in the name of the revolution. Native Cubans weren’t the only victims either.
Yesterday, Cuban and American officials discussed what to do with the $8 billion in commercial claims. According to the chair of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission:
“The counter claims are part of the process and they don’t surprise me. It’s something both teams will have to work out,” said Tamargo. “The Cubans aren’t going to be easy customers here. They are looking for any type of bargaining chip or advantage they can find. I expect these will be tough negotiations.
“Some of the counter claims are pie in the sky and they don’t hold up under international law,” he said. “Damages arising from an embargo are not recognized under international law. The United States is allowed to have any type of trade restrictions on any government it wants and to protect its own citizens.”
But in terms of the loss of life claims, Tamargo said, “depending on the facts surrounding each of those claims, they may have a better chance of validity.”
All told, there are 5,913 claims, and the top 100 claims represent 90 percent of the value of all claims
Tamargo claims the Cubans have the dough. We’ll see. Using m limited legal knowledge as guide, I’m sure litigation will stretch for years. But Cuba watchers note: the legitimacy and seriousness of the Obama administration’s commitment to normalizing relations depends on how it deals with the fraught history. There are ample reasons for the mistrust. Decades of mistrust.