Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Cuban Democrats

It sounds like an oxymoron here in South Florida to say “Cuban Democrats,” but there’s a small but growing number of them.

With Democrats in control of Congress and Raúl Castro running Cuba the past six months as his brother Fidel remains ailing, some believe change is on the horizon. Last week, a bipartisan group, including Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake, and New York Democrat Charles Rangel, once again introduced a bill in the U.S. House to allow travel to Cuba.

If Democrats act as a catalyst for change, Cuban Americans from their party will be in a position that could present both opportunity and political peril.

“There is this ongoing presumption that if you’re Cuban you’re automatically a Republican, and when you tell people you’re Democrat, it’s almost like the old guard looks at you and says, ‘I didn’t realize you’re a communist,’ ” said [Susana] Betancourt, president of the Miami-Dade Democratic Hispanic Caucus.

Betancourt is counting on disillusionment with President Bush’s Cuba policy to attract younger Cuban-American voters, in particular, to the Democratic camp. “You’ve had a Republican president and you’ve had a Republican-controlled Congress,” she said. “What changes have we seen?”


Democrats likely won’t get enough votes to overturn a veto, which Bush has promised for any bill that attempts to soften the embargo and travel ban.

Nevertheless, Cuban-American Democrats see a chance to move the debate — and, eventually, the White House — in another direction.

Coral Gables City Attorney Elizabeth Hernandez, a Democrat, said Cuban Americans are split over the embargo.

“I always believe in destiny, and it’s very ironic that the Democrats are in power the year we are hoping with sufficient amount of prayer that Fidel will meet his maker,” Hernandez said. “I am hoping that the Democratic Party, which is the one that really planned for the reentry of Cuban exiles into Cuba when this first happened, will be at the helm when, hopefully, we are back in Cuba.”

It’s interesting that Cuba has always proved to be the exception to the Republican mantra that an influx of capitalism and free trade would put an end to a dictatorship. That’s what they told us about eastern Europe, China, and Vietnam. But not Cuba, and the reason is that the opposition to the Communist government has always been personal, not political. The exiles don’t blame the system, they blame Fidel and hold him personally responsible for everything bad that has happened to them. Bad day at work? Blame Castro. Car won’t start? Ditto. As upyernoz noted in comments on yesterday’s post about the planned party when Castro checks out, “Who are they going to obsess about now?”

Much like they’ve done with the fundamentalist Christianists, The Republicans have cynically exploited the Cubans for their votes, and if they could figure out a way to sell the car parts and iPods in Havana and still get los historicos on Calle Ocho to vote for the GOP, they would do it in a heartbeat.