Last night's election results made pretty clear that President Obama's re-election had much to do with his campaign's vaunted ground game, and likely also with Governor Romney's inability to provide a compelling enough alternative to a president who was vulnerable on several fronts. The pundits largely agree: the American people didn't exactly give Obama a mandate. Even as the Republican party asks itself, "Where to, now?" - President Obama must do some soul searching of his own if he is to govern successfully in his second term.
With all the talk of changing demographics, one key demographic made an important and historic shift. The Cuban American community may well have given President Obama a mandate on Cuba policy. According to exit polling (as reported by Fox News), President Obama won a record number of Cuban American votes in this election, 47% to Romney's 50%. This is a full ten points above the previous high water mark (reached by Obama in 2008) by a Democratic politician. No longer can Cuban Americans be characterized a "reliable Republican" constituency.
A factor in President Obama's potential victory in Florida are Cuban Americans who wish to preserve their normal liberty to travel and send remittances/investments. More than 25% of the Cuban community returned last year and an even larger percentage presumably contribute to the estimated $2 billion in annual assistance to their families, and their own future stake in Cuba.
Although not all have become citizens and vote, enough more have since 2008 that Obama can expect to increase his percentage above the 5% gain over Kerry. In addition Cuba's migratory reforms have significantly broadened the population who benefit from freedom of travel. In particular, the second phase announcement allowing return of previously excluded categories of illegal emigres affects 70,000 to 300,000 people who have lived in the US for a longer time. With little hope of visiting Cuba, they were probably more inclined to citizenship. Will they want to give up the opportunity suddenly afforded them to return?
All these folks know that a Romney/Rubio/Diaz-Balart/Ros-Lehtinen victory will slam the door shut, returning to at least the Bush era level of restriction of travel (once every three years) and very stingy remittances.
Romney's campaign has run a scurrilous Spanish language ad in south Florida linking Obama to Presidents Chavez and Castro. Havana's denunciation of the semi-embassy US Interests Section for meddling in domestic politics is a way to say publicly that it does not have a dog in the US race.
“When I saw the rockets being fired at Mario’s house, I swore to myself that the Americans would pay dearly for what they are doing. When this war is over a much wider and bigger war will begin for me: The war that I am going to wage against them. I know that this is my real destiny.”
Fidel Castro wrote these words in 1958, the decisive year of his guerrilla war against Dictator Fulgencio Batista. Mario was a peasant from Cuba’s Sierra Maestra mountain range whose house was bombarded by the regime’s U.S.-equipped air force. Although Fidel Castro had expressed an adolescent admiration for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, by 1958, he was acutely aware that a clash with Washington was probable if not inevitable. In Latin America, Washington’s support for dictators such as Batista was the norm, not the exception. No matter how terrible they were with their people, dictators were considered a safeguard against communist penetration in the hemisphere. Following this logic, not only communism but most types of nationalism were considered anathema to Eisenhower Washington.
After issuing reforms to its migration law last week which will give most Cubans the right to freely travel abroad without getting permission first, the Cuban government has just announced it will allow tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Cubans who left Cuba illegally in the last two decades to return to the island for visits. This will include not only many defectors but also rafters who headed to the United States during the economic crisis that peaked in 1994 and 1995.
There are several key implications of this new policy. First, and most importantly, it is another significant step in the normalization of relations with the Cuban diaspora. Certainly, any visits made by these Cubans abroad will bring economic benefits to the island. But allowing more Cubans to return to the island of their birth will help accelerate the warming trend between the island and its diaspora. More Cuban Americans, for instance, will now have a stake in U.S. policies that increase their access to the island - and their relatives' access to the U.S. They will also be less inclined to press for or support sanctions that could harm their loved ones or that could jeopardize this new, more open relationship with the island.
But will the strongest opponents of the Cuban government welcome these reforms? Not necessarily. These reforms and their impact on Cuban Americans' attitudes only spell trouble for the U.S. embargo. More and more, it's unclear who really wants the policy to stay in place, and a day will come when the momentum will shift to the reformers, rather than remaining with a dwindling number of supporters of the isolationist status quo.
In particular, Cuba's new migration policies could put pressure on key elements of the embargo, such as the wet-foot, dry-foot policy, and even the Cuba Adjustment Act. Each of these policies was created for Cubans fleeing the island. Together they make it easier for Cubans to arrive illegally and to apply for a green card in just one year's time. With so many Cubans able to come and go without persecution by the Cuban government, what remains the basis for these policies?
I had expected to see and contribute to post-debate analyses here at THN of what the presidential candidates said and meant vis-a-vis Cuba on Monday. But Cuba didn't even get a single mention in third and final presidential debate, which was focused on foreign policy and also just happened to take place in Florida. All in all, I think that was good news. Obviously Governor Romney didn't think it would earn him any extra votes to critique the president's Cuba policies, and President Obama likewise seemed comfortable letting his policies stand (rather than walk them back). The Washington Office on Latin America's Geoff Thale offers his thoughts here on "The Dog that Didn't Bark."
In the meantime, I invite readers to check out this thoughtful post below submitted to us by guest blogger Dan Egol. Dan is a Middlebury College senior and political science major who studied abroad in Havana last fall. He writes in the hope of fostering greater engagement and communication between American and Cuban communities. While THN readers are quite familiar with the U.N. resolution on the U.S. embargo presented by Cuba each October when the General Assembly meets , I'd wager we don't give as much thought to other resolutions on which the United States and Cuba might agree or disagree. And Dan has highlighted an issue that should offer the two countries an opportunity to get on the same side.
A U.N. Resolution at a Crossroads: Traditional Values and LGBT Advocacy in Cuba
As significant economic and political reforms continue introducing new modes of business ownership and career paths to Cuba, forums for wider cultural debates are surfacing. This shift has presented Cuban society with an opportunity to become more open and inclusive to previously marginalized community members as it adapts to these changes. However, Cuba’s support for passing the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution A/HRC/21/L2, which seeks to approach human rights defense through the lens of traditional values, raises important questions about its commitment to protecting the rights of marginalized minority groups. A traditional values framework for human rights can have questionable implications for historically disenfranchised minorities, especially for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Cubans because tradition may be used as a justification for discrimination. Although the Cuban delegation voted in support of this problematic resolution just a few weeks ago, this decision should not overshadow the commendable strides Cuba has made by allowing an authentic LGBT right’s movement to emerge in recent years.
Grassroots advocates, such as El Proyecto Arco Iris, or the Rainbow Project,[i] have arisen to push the movement for LGBT rights forward in recent months. In late July of this year, the Rainbow Project held its equivalent of a Cuban gay pride with a “kissing” campaign to make Cuba’s LGBT community visible to the wider public. Las Isabelas[ii], a lesbian support network, has also come to the fore as an all women’s group seeking to educate the public on issues of sexual health and gender equality. With counterparts Oremi (La Habana) and Fenix (Cienfuegos), Las Isabelas helped put together the first National Lesbian Workshop in 2009, which continues today. Although small in numbers (there are currently 32 women involved with Las Isabelas), the group receives administrative support and guidance from Mariela Castro and her team at CENESEX (The National Center for Sexual Education). Both groups collaborate for educational campaigns to raise awareness about sexual rights and discrimination.
Anti-engagement American hardliners may still grumble over Mariela Castro’s State Department issued visa to attend the 2012 Latin American Studies Association Conference; however, Mariela Castro’s body of work on sex education and advocacy on behalf of women and sexual minorities, not her familial ties to the Castro regime, distinguish her as a noteworthy voice in the discussion of gay rights in Cuba.
Cuba's welcome announcement of the end of the exit visa travel restriction poses two challenges to the Obama Administration:
Cuba is giving its citizens more freedom to travel to the US than the US gives its citizens to travel to Cuba. The White House should respond by using its power to allow all non tourist travel to Cuba without applying for a license, our equivalent of the White Card. It must also press Congress to abolish all travel restrictions.
The Cuban Adjustment Act and wet foot dry foot policy must be suspended and repealed. With Cubans free to travel to Mexico and Canada, 'step across the border' economic migration will become a bigger problem.
I wonder whether this increases the likelihood of Cuba coming up during next Monday's Presidential debate in Florida on foreign policy .
A general question will produce similar anti-regime boilerplate from both candidates. The glaring contrast is on travel .
After literally years upon years of rumors that the Cuban government was planning to implement migration reforms, today, finally it did indeed publish significant changes to Cuba's migration law in the Gaceta Oficial (see the file attachment at the end of this post). After several years of economic reforms, some of which came ever so slowly and others of which seemed to cycle out rather quickly, such as new rules for property sales, these changes to Cuban migration law represent the first substantial political reform enacted by Raul Castro's government.
On the one hand, this is a huge step forward for both the Cuban government and the Cuban population. The elimination of the 'tarjeta blanca', or white card policy, which required Cubans to be invited abroad and receive authorization to go, and the new broad right to a passport, spelled out in black and white, represents a new level of trust that hasn't existed between the Cuban population at large and its government in many years. The new migration policy also doubles the time a Cuban may live abroad without relinquishing citizenship (and possessions left behind) to 2 years, and then after that, one must seek additional months at a Cuban consulate.
On the other hand, there are several caveats, some obvious and inocuous, and others that, depending on how broadly they are used by authorities, still mean that several categories of Cubans may not benefit from these changes, or will at the very least, have to wait to benefit.
This weekend, I was gearing up to blog about why a Chavez defeat in Venezuela may not have spelled complete and immediate disaster in Cuba. I was percolating up some pretty plausible arguments. But, with Chavez’s win, Cubans at least have been spared that conversation, for now.
I might have been left without anything interesting at all to write about, were it not for the investigative reporting of veteran Cuba reporter and blogger, Tracey Eaton, who through his Cuba Money Project has done some of the finest grain investigating into USAID’s controversial Cuba programs that anyone has undertaken. Tracey learned of a big new USAID grant to the New America Foundation, which as readers well know, is home to the US-Cuba Policy Initiative founded by Steve Clemons and led by yours truly.
The grant, which Tracey notes is the second one awarded to NAF’s fast-growing, fast-moving Open Technology Institute, is a big one: $4.3 million. I wasn’t surprised to hear of another grant, though I wasn’t aware of it, having known that OTI had received previous U.S. government support. But I was certainly surprised to learn this one was awarded under USAID’s Cuba program. As I told Tracey, I’m not involved in any USAID grants – and I frankly don’t want to be. I think I’m pretty clearly on record in my belief that USAID’s programs in Cuba have largely failed in their objectives and are in fact often counterproductive to anyone associated with them.
Can hardline Cuban American voters, particularly those for whom supporting the U.S. embargo of Cuba is the granddaddy of all litmus tests, really trust in Paul Ryan’s change of heart on Cuba, as reinforced by his visit this weekend to Versailles restaurant in Miami, the soul of the hardline Cuban American community? Probably not. But they don’t have to trust his change of heart; they merely need to be reassured by the display of it. It’s no small thing to have a record as long and clearly in favor of engaging Cuba and ending the embargo as the one Paul Ryan is doing his best to bury, and then to come out publicly as the Republicans’ candidate for vice president and insist you now understand thanks to the guiding light of your Cuban American friends in Congress. This is not to say that Ryan (or any politician in his position) can’t take back his flip flop, but it would certainly be very awkward. And that’s going to have to be enough for embargo supporters in Miami.
Paul Ryan was obviously chosen for the ticket for reasons other than his stance on Cuba policy and that means that the hardliners in Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the brothers Diaz-Balart (one of whom has retired to pave the way for a political career in the Cuba he envisions one day), who all wisely backed Romney early on, did what they do best. They made lemonade with the lemon Romney gave them. In exchange for their impassioned endorsements, he said everything they wanted him to say...."clamp down on the Castro regime," "[Obama's] policy of appeasement," and "we will be tough on this brutal dictator."
In the end, the few Cuban Americans for whom Cuba is the issue on which they cast their vote are unlikely to stay home because they believe Paul Ryan still opposes the embargo. They’ve seen what President Obama has done in office up to now – which, though by embargo opponents’ standards is woefully little, still looks to them as too much – and they will vote against Obama’s policy, rather than for a Romney-Ryan policy. (Don’t forget that Obama has his own history of opposing the embargo, but his backpedals have been much more nuanced.)
However little they may understand the on the ground dynamics at play on the island today, these Cuba embargo voters are not stupid. They know well that politicians say one thing when they’re free to, and they often say quite another if the right mix of pressures forces them to do so. That mix is a combination of political leaders who stop at nothing in defense of their embargo, and a steady flow of political donations to help lubricate the twisting of arms. A 2009 report by non-profit watchdog Public Campaign tracked the mid-2000's uptick in political donations by pro-embargo groups and the Cuba policy voting records of members of Congress before and after the donations and – shockingly – found money made a difference.
Mauricio Claver-Carone hosts a satellite radio program by the name “From Washington al Mundo” covering international affairs. But don’t expect any diplomacy there. The program is merely his platform from which to insult the American foreign policy establishment. For example, in his August 6 show, Claver targeted Vali Nasr, the Dean of the School of Advanced Studies of Johns Hopkins University and a leading expert on the Middle East, calling him “a useful idiot” or an agent of Teheran for not advocating a regime change policy and promoting negotiations with Iran. Mr. Claver and his guest Shahriar Etminani agreed that the nuclear issue is mere “noise”.
In another episode, Claver denounced Washington’s engagement with Beijing. On April 17, Claver hosted Thadeus McCotter or “the smartest member of Congress” by Claver's reckoning. The host and the guest shared their belief that as long as the Communist Party is in power, China remains the same. The United States should apply a Cold War policy to China because the war has never ended. According to Claver’s logic, the 40- year Nixon-Kissinger model of “unconditional” and “nonchalant” engagement with China is a case of “myopia”. It should be replaced by a “confrontational” approach. After Tiananmen Square, the United States should have applied to China a policy similar to our fifty year failure against Cuba: the embargo.