Monday, April 19, 2004

Kerry In Miami

John Kerry made a quick trip to South Florida on Sunday which included the usual rounds of rallys, church services, and fund-raising. Of course, whenever a presidential candidate comes down here the one topic he’ll get grilled on is relations with Cuba. Tim Russert, who brought his Meet The Press gang to the WTVJ studios in Miramar so he could interview Kerry, brought it up. Kerry artfully handled the question and got back to safer ground – Iraq.

Russert reminded Kerry that in 2000 he seemed to suggest that the United States’ Cuba policy was kept in place ”because of the power of the Cuban-American lobby” and that a reevaluation of relations with the island was “way overdue.”

Kerry replied that efforts to bring democracy to Cuba have failed and that politics today are different from 2000.

He added: “I think there’s been a dramatic change in the community in Florida itself. Now, I met with members of that community. All through the years I’ve been in the Senate, for 20 years, Tim, I have never suggested lifting the embargo. I don’t suggest you just lift the embargo. That’s not what I’m talking about. But for anybody to suggest that what we’ve been doing has worked, that it has somehow — I mean, look what happened with the Varela program recently. A whole bunch of people got arrested and put in jail.”

The Varela Project sought thousands of signatures on the island to petition the Cuban government for basic civil liberties. Last year 75 Cuban dissidents were sentenced to harsh prison terms.

”I wouldn’t just give something for nothing, but I would begin to encourage travel,” Kerry added. “I’ve suggested that. I think that’s appropriate. I think remittances might be considered and might be helpful.” [Miami Herald]

Rule Number 1 in South Florida politics: Learn to play dominoes with the guys on Calle Ocho – the main street of Little Havana – and everything will be muy bueno. If not, adios, cholo.