Obama's Choice on Cuba


The struggle to influence the direction of the Obama administration on Cuba is underway.

A good article by Carol Williams in today's LA Times quotes Jake Colvin, Al Fox and myself about prospects for change by the new administration.

I developed the same ideas at greater length in an op ed in Sunday's Sun Sentinel

The contrary effort to influence Obama was expressed in Myriam Marquez' column in Sunday's Miami Herald. She boasts of CANF's influence and distorts Obama's position on family travel. She also echoes the CANF critique of US democracy funding, that it is not deployed effectively enough for purposes of subversion.

"With Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, the Cuban American National Foundation is sitting pretty after wandering the political wilderness for eight years....With Obama's win CANF is positioned to have immense influence on Cuba policy. What to expect? An aggressive policy to get more money to the opposition in Cuba....The U.S. embargo toward Cuba will rightly stay. The 2004 Bush restrictions on travel and remittances will go. Returning to the pre-2004 rules would mean Cuban Americans could travel once a year to see family instead of once every three years, and remittances could go up to $3,000 a year -- instead of the current $1,200 -- and open to all family members."

In fact, every Obama campaign statement about Cuba and the Democratic Party platform position clearly pledge "unlimited family visits and remittances" , not only return to the pre-2004 formula.

As far as I know, Obama has not spoken to the controversy over "democracy" funding, other than the skepticism expressed by his votes against TV Marti in 2005.

Yet Marquez assumes he will follow CANF's line that,

"the rules need to change so that money and equipment can reach the opposition -- just as it did during the Cold War for the Polish Solidarity movement."

She seems oblivious to both Cuban and Eastern European history. Poland and other communist regimes on the periphery of the Soviet Union were externally imposed and sustained. The Solidarity model is totally irrelevant to Cuba which is why many people who took advantage of the opening offered by Mikhail Gorbachev believe the US embargo and travel restrictions are counterproductive--and vote against them in the UN every year.


Vietnam and China are better analogies to Cuba. Whether admired or disliked, their revolutions were internally created and managed and have evolved on their own terms to market economies and greater personal freedom. (The US expresses criticism of their human rights records and political systems but does not presume to intervene in domestic debates.)

Sending direct aid to opposition personalities in Cuba hopelessly compromises their nationalist credentials and makes them vulnerable to prosecution as agents of a hostile foreign power, not unlike the attitude the US took to members of the US Communist Party in the 1950s. Buying into CANF's semi-soft regime change thesis also makes no sense if the new administration wants to develop the trust and mutual respect that are essential for successful negotiations.

CANF and others in Miami presume they should be part of any negotiations between Washington and Havana, but that is pure poison to serious talks. It would be like Bill Clinton inviting Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky to be part of the US-Vietnam normalization discussions. (Much after the fact Ky made his peace with Hanoi and has been back to Vietnam several times, to the great dismay of Vietnamese American extremists who still dominate community politics here.)

The full range of Cuban American opinion should be listened to by the new administration: the unconditional engagement voices, the soft intervention groups, and even the no-dialog forces. However, none of them should be given weight beyond their numbers in the whole US population and in the spectrum of public opinion which favors ending all travel restrictions by 2 to 1.

--John McAuliff www.ffrd.org

Contradictory Florida Results Enable Obama


Preliminary election returns suggest President-elect Obama has a greater range of maneuver on Cuba than anticipated.

How much of his substantial statewide margin of victory in Florida (see below) can be attributed to support from Cuban Americans who crossed over from McCain because they shared only his cautious position on family travel? All three Democratic contenders lost who advocated a partial reform of travel similar to Obama's, suggesting that was not as decisive an issue in the exile community as many hoped.

Does that mean that Obama might have done as well in Florida if he had advocated all travel, or even an end to the embargo? Do exit polls and analysis of the Presidential vote in Miami-Dade Congressional districts offer more insight?

Certainly Obama will owe nothing to the three hard line Cuban American Republicans returning to Washington. However, they and the Democracy PAC money will still play a strong role in the House and on key committees. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and other Florida politicians with state wide ambitions will remain leery of offending the organized Cuban American constituency.

A common sense US policy on Cuba even more clearly means removing it from special interest nationality politics, as the Executive Branch is better able to do than Congress, especially when the next Presidential election is four years away. We would still lack diplomatic relations and maintain unilateral embargoes against China, Vietnam and Cambodia if change had depended on the approval of their exile communities in the US.

Sequential actions by the White House and Congress can reinforce each other and create an atmosphere for fundamental common sense change in US-Cuba relations. The crucial first step is for the incoming Administration to follow the window opening logic of its campaign commitment to unrestricted Cuban American travel.

It must reject discrimination in the right to travel based on ethnicity or national origin and enable the broadest non-tourist travel possible under existing legal authority, as favored by two-thirds of Americans.

--John McAuliff

Florida Statewide

Obama / Biden 4,073,207, 50.9%
McCain / Palin 3,872,553, 48.4%
difference 200,654

District 18

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen 137,817, 57.7%
Annette Taddeo 100,929, 42.3%

District 21
Lincoln Diaz-Balart 132,861, 57.8%
Raul L. Martinez 97,184, 42.2%

District 25
Mario Diaz-Balar 127,059, 52.8%
Joe Garcia 113,495, 47.2%

Florida Department of State
Division of Elections

2008 General Election

(may not include absentee or provisional ballots)
Page Generated: 11/5/2008 1:55 AM

Bush Administration Bogs Down Hurricane Assistance


Richard Walden and I go back a long way. We worked together to send the first air shipment of private US aid to Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge were routed by the Vietnamese--Thanksgiving 1979.

He had recently founded a rambunctious humanitarian medical aid group called Operation California, and I was director of the Indochina Peace Education Program at the Quaker led American Friends Service Committee.

Fast forward thirty years, and we are both still at it, but now for Cuba, Richard with his renamed Operation USA, and me with the Fund for Reconciliation and Development.

A common thread over three decades is the obscurantism of the Federal bureaucracy, and in particular the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Treasury Department, and its counterpart in the Commerce Department, which use every trick in their book to do the bidding of their political masters. (Richard notes that the key people in the State Department who initially blocked his licensing for Vietnam and Cambodia were Dick Holbrooke and John Negroponte, at the time Assistant and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Asia.)

In his speech at the General Assembly on Wednesday, the US representative made a big deal of our willingness to help Cuba recover from hurricane damage during his fruitless effort to avoid another humiliating defeat. The reality is more accurately reflected in the account from Richard that follows.

His story drives home the point that if an Obama Administration wants to open a new more rational relationship with Cuba, an essential bureaucratic task is to reform OFAC. A simple first step is to direct it and the Commerce Department to immediately issue a general license for hurricane related help through personal contributions by any American to Cuban family members and friends and for assistance from any recognized US non-governmental organization.

At the end Richard refers to an upcoming fund raiser for hurricane relief featuring Jackson Browne in Santa Monica on November 29th

Jackson’s latest album includes the theme song for the Cuba travel movement, as performed for Colbert Nation:

--John McAuliff
A personal report on how hard it is to help, thanks to the embargo…

I’m just back from Cuba and drove thru Pinar Del Rio, one of the hardest hit provinces from the recent hurricanes.

The need for material “solidarityâ€Â is serious and, as usual, US Government agencies are obstructing rather than facilitating aid.

Operation USA has a Treasury license for travel/monitoring to Cuba to survey distribution of Commerce-licensed humanitarian aid, up to $1.4 million to Havana pediatric hospitals. Hurricane aid requires at least two new licenses. We are sending water purification tablets purchased in Ireland from a major supplier to the UN and NGOs globally. We were promised a quick turnaround by OFAC over a month ago…BUT things have slowed down.

First, we were asked if the water purification tablets have any US supplied component. It turns out the chlorine sold to the Irish company comes from a US chemical company, and that takes us from the realm of just spending cash overseas (via OFAC authority) to trying to estimate what percentage of the final product is US related. OFAC asked us to get a Commerce license for the re-export of the 40% of each tablet which appears to be US supplied to the manufacturer. They actually insisted we get the company to state exactly what percent and what dollar value of each pill is US made. [No company would ever break down for you the percent which is their profit, packaging, raw materials, etc.]

Then Commerce gleefully informed us they can no longer accept paper or faxed license applications as of October. Applications must be electronically filled out and sent BUT each company must have a unique identifying corporate number assigned by Commerce as well as a PIN number for each staff person applying for a license. This goes to a different part of Commerce’s huge bureaucracy and they took three weeks to give us an identifying number and PINS for our staff.

Now, we have the electronic license application in front of us but it requires street addresses for every recipient in Cuba. As we are buying two million tablets which will be distributed in 50 to100 tablet amounts, this is silly. Even getting exact street addresses for six Cuban hospitals in Pinar Del Rio is difficult as Latin American addresses are often squishy.
The Commerce guys also just informed us that they have to send the completed application to the State Dept for review…a one month process.

As we are holding a major Cuba fund raiser in late November in Los Angeles, we may have significant new money to spend for or in Cuba. The US government agencies require specific project budgets for each project even if we are not sending cash to Cuba.

And on and on.

Richard Walden
President and CEO
Operation USA

America's Wrong-Headedness on Cuba


When I find myself nodding in agreement with about 75% of what Jorge Mas Santos, the Chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, is saying in a critique of George W. Bush's wrong-headed US-Cuba policy, I know the world is changing and sense that South Florida politics may be undergoing a sea change.

I don't agree with Mas' views on regime change in Cuba, but this essay blasts John McCain for status quo-ism and embraces Obama's "flexibility" in thinking through how to turn away from failed policies.

And Sarah Stephens, Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, has an outstanding piece out today on the human costs of the anachronistic, failed, but painful embargo which most of the world strongly criticizes.

Here is a piece of her Huffington Post essay:

UN Members are now digesting a report compiled by the Secretary-General that measures the impact of our sanctions in chilling detail.

The embargo hurts Cuba's health care system. Last year, it forced Cuban children with heart conditions to wait for needed operations because a US-based firm, Boston Scientific, has refused - as it must, under U.S. law - to sell needed devices to Cuba's William Soler Pediatric Hospital. It prevented the purchase of spare parts for diagnostic equipment used in cancer detection, and delayed the delivery of 3 million syringes for vaccinations against communicable diseases. It forced Cuban medical authorities to buy antiretroviral drugs from secondary suppliers in grey markets, at significantly higher prices - straining an already thin public health budget.

The embargo also takes food off the table in Cuban homes, by blocking the government's access to imported seeds, fertilizers, and spare parts for farm machinery, and by imposing exotic payment rules that add tens of millions of dollars to its bill for importing food from overseas.

In other words, the sanctions we aim at Cuba's government actually hit and hurt the health and diet of the Cuban people instead.

But the embargo is more than a bilateral matter between Cuba's government and ours. US law reaches companies and countries across the globe in an effort to bend their policy to our will, rallying the rest of the world to Cuba's side

Brazil calls our policy a violation of international law. Mexico condemns the embargo as an abandonment of diplomacy. Colombia, our closest ally in the region, says of the US embargo "this kind of action should stop." The European Union, now negotiating directly with Cuba on human rights, objects to the extra-territorial reach of our sanctions. China calls on us to negotiate our differences directly with Cuba. Russia - without a trace of irony - refers to the embargo as "a remnant of the cold war."

It is no wonder that last year's sanctions vote went against America 184-4. Only Israel, Palau, and the Marshall Islands stood with us. Every one of our European allies, Canada, Japan and Australia, and nearly all of Latin America (save El Salvador, which was absent) deserted us. It will happen again this year. Already, close to one-hundred fifty countries filed statements with the Secretary General for this year's debate that bear witness to our isolation.

The funny thing about Israel voting with us on the embargo is that Israeli interests are managing citrus groves in Cuba.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note

Hialeah Dirty Tricks

Whether its declaring Cuba a state sponsor of terror, disenfranchising thousands of voters, or consorting with federally-convicted terrorists, politics in South Florida are full of sharp elbows and illicit activity. So it is little surprise to see this report come out of Hialeah, Florida, home of a large Cuban American population: the dirty tricks brigade are starting up operations in South Florida. From the Miami Herald via Politico.com:

"Three Hialeah voters say they had an unusual visitor at their homes last week: a man who called himself Juan, offering to help them fill out their absentee ballots and deliver them to the elections office. p> "The voters, all supporters of Democratic congressional candidate Raul Martinez, said they gave their ballots to the man after he told them he worked for Martinez. But the Martinez campaign said he doesn't work for them.

"Juan ''told me not to worry, that they normally collected all the ballots and waited until they had a stack big enough to hand-deliver to the elections department,'' said voter Jesus Hernandez, 73. 'He said, `Don't worry. This is not going to pass through the mail to get lost.' ''

"Hernandez said he worries his ballot was stolen or destroyed. He and two other voters told The Miami Herald that the man was dispatched by a woman caller who also said she worked for Martinez. But the phone number cited by the voters traces back to a consultant working for Martinez's rival, Republican congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart." Read the rest here.

Of course, this tale is but a symptom of a problem that affects our foreign policy more broadly. As former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski writes in his book, Second Chance,

Increased congressional dependence on costly and almost permanent campaigning is the root cause of this trend. The high expense of TV campaigns has turned targeted funding support (or opposition) into a crucial instrument for gaining influence. This explains the growing role of Israeli-American, Cuban-American, Armenian-American lobbies and others, all highly effective in mobilizing financial support for their political causes.

The Constitution grants Congress the authority to regulate commerce with foreign nations. This is not at issue, and is, on the whole, a wise distribution of authority. What is at issue, however, is the extent to which modern Congressional campaigning has become dependent upon contributions from individuals and PACs, distorting elections themselves and subsequently the legislation passed by Congress.

Taking Your Rhetoric Seriously


Between principle and practice, the Democratic Party approach to Cuba needs some clarification.

It's platform plank on Cuba begins:

We must turn the page on the arrogance in Washington

yet concludes

presenting the Cuban regime with a clear choice: if it takes significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the unconditional release of all political prisoners, we will be prepared to take steps to begin normalizing relations.

Contrast that with the BBC's report of the basis for EU-Cuba normalization

A joint declaration, signed by Cuba's foreign minister and the European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, calls for respect for Cuba's political independence and non-intervention in its internal affairs.

When the UN votes on the unilateral US embargo of Cuba next week for the seventeenth time, it is likely to replicate last year's near unanimity, a number which has grown steadily. Ironically citizens of our only significant supporter, Israel, are big investors in Cuban property development and manage the country's largest citrus plantation.

The larger significance of the vote for our international standing was reflected in the inaugural address of the President of the General Assembly, Rev. Miguel D’Escoto, on September 16, 2008:

At the United Nations, the word “democracyâ€Â is becoming increasingly empty, with no real meaning or substance. Take for instance, the 45-year-old United States embargo against Cuba. Even with a majority as overwhelming as 184 votes to 4, this patently unjust and universally repudiated embargo remains firmly in place. If the opinion of more than 95 per cent of the membership of the United Nations can be so casually ignored, of what use is this General Assembly? This is a question that deserves some thought. How can we be content to say that we have democracy simply because we have the “one nation, one voteâ€Â rule? What good are votes if they can be ignored or have no real consequence?


Update:the on-line letter urging a suspension of restrictions on travel, remittances and aid by all Americans in order to provide hurricane assistance to Cuba has topped 1000 signatures. You can add your name and view the eloquent comments from very diverse sources here.


Cuba and the EU Restore Ties

Putting an end to five years of strained relations, Cuba and the European Union signed a cooperation agreement today in Havana, AFP reports.

The development is yet another foil to the failed U.S. policy of isolation and regime change. The EU, with higher and more consistent human rights standards than the U.S., has recognized that the best course for influencing this island nation of 11 million 90 miles off Key West, is one of engagement.

The announcement also came with a considerable sweetener to this nation devastated by the 2008 hurricane season: 2 million euros in immediate assistance and promises of at least 25 million euros more in 2009.

This will make next week's vote at the U.N. General Assembly, condemning the U.S. policy of embargo and the extraterritorial sanctions embodied in the Helms-Burton Act, even more lonely for the United States. It is quite a prominent dismissal of American interests, something the Europeans do only with considerable deliberation and cause.

It seems to me it is a good time to apply General Colin Powell's eponymous doctrine to U.S.-Cuba policy. Here is one version of that doctrine, designed to help the nation's leaders determine whether the United States should go to war. Full-scale economic embargo is generally seen as the last step the United States takes before war, and as far as I understand, we do not currently have and have never undertaken any other peacetime embargo of this scope. Even Iran, which many believe today posts one of the greatest threats to American interests, does not suffer the extent of sanctions that Cuba does.

But I digress. Here is the Powell Doctrine:

1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
7. Is the action supported by the American people?
8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

Recognizing that numbers four and five do not apply to an economic embargo, it seems to me that for all these questions, the answer is a resounding no. There is no vital national security interest threatened, we do not have an attainable objective (though regime change certainly is clear), the costs have not been analyzed and therefore the consequences are harming U.S. interests in the Hemisphere and around the world, the policy is supported only by a minority of voters in Florida and New Jersey, and finally, no one, save for Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands, supports us.

It's time for common sense to once again rule on Cuba policy. The EU's message could not be clearer.

A Call for Science Diplomacy

My colleague Dr. Michael Clegg, who is foreign secretary of the National Academy of Sciences, co-authored a great op-ed in the most recent edition of the journal Science. Here's a link to the free summary.

Clegg notes that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the two oldest scientific associations in the Western Hemisphere, the National Academy in the U.S. and the one in Cuba. Clegg traveled to Cuba in September, just before the hurricanes.

Clegg's co-author is his Cuban counterpart, Dr. Sergio Jorge Pastrana, the foreign secretary of the Academia de Ciencias in Cuba. Together, they talk about the many areas where Cuban and American Scientists would benefit from a relaxation in the restrictions on scientific exchange.

Restrictions on U.S.-Cuba scientific cooperation deprive both research communities of opportunities that could benefit our societies, as well as others in the hemisphere, particularly in the Caribbean. Cuba is scientifically proficient in disaster management and mitigation, vaccine production, and epidemiology. Cuban scientists could benefit from access to research facilities that are beyond the capabilities of any developing country, and the U.S. scientific community could benefit from high-quality science being done in Cuba. For example, Cuba typically sits in the path of hurricanes bound for the U.S. mainland that create great destruction, as was the case with Hurricane Katrina and again last month with Hurricane Ike. Cuban scientists and engineers have learned how to protect threatened populations and minimize damage. Despite the category 3 rating of Hurricane Ike when it struck Cuba, there was less loss of life after a 3-day pounding than that which occurred when it later struck Texas as a category 2 hurricane. Sharing knowledge in this area would benefit everybody.

Change is coming to the U.S.-Cuban relationship. The question is only in the pacing of that change. Either way, scientific exchange and the unofficial diplomacy that comes from it will be a critical piece of the infrastructure of success. The National Academy linkages that Dr. Clegg is part of is a good preliminary move, and follows in the spirit of U.S. scientific exchanges with the Soviet Union, China, Iran, Syria, and North Korea. The reason these contacts are especially important is that scientists, with their preference for evidence and reason over ideology and rhetoric, can build the kind of relationships that official diplomacy needs to be successful over the long term.

Now is the time to increase those exchanges and make the institutional linkages durable.

20 Billion Barrels: Another Gamechanger for Cuba

For those of us arguing for a change in U.S. policy towards Cuba based on a realist calculation of American interests, Cuba's announcement that the geology in their territorial waters could contain up to 20 billion barrels of crude oil certainly tips the scales. Whether the estimate is accurate or not, the sooner we change course, the better.

Consider the situation. Last month, Cuba was devastated by three hurricanes that ripped up the island's housing, infrastructure, and destroyed one-third of its crops. It was the worst hurricane season in memory, with more than a quarter of the population displaced at one point. Based on an internal food security assessment that I recently completed, the Cuban people are now surviving on Government rations which may run out in December, well before Cuban agriculture bounces back by February or March. While some ministers of the Cuban government have denied the possibility of a mass famine, others have been steadily preparing for the worst. While I now discount the possibility for an October surprise, it is still more than possible that on January 20, 2009 televisions in Miami will have a split screen: one watching the new U.S. president sworn in while the other chronicles severe hunger in or even mass migration from Cuba.

I believe that the threat of widespread famine is actually driving the release of these geological assessments at this time. Whether true or not, Cuba's only way to avoid a famine event is to increase imports of food, for which Cuba desperately needs foreign credit. The prospects of future oil revenues, I hazard, are being put up as collateral for a country whose other export industries: tobacco, sugar cane (and the rum it produces), citrus, and even nickel have been hard-hit by the storms.

Given the almost limitless demand in the global market for oil and the long time horizons on which oil investment is made, I have little doubt that major consuming countries like China and India would hesitate long to begin negotiations with a quick package of sovereign credit to ensure their nation's ability to access those oil reserves once they are more conclusively "proven."

There are other dynamics at play as well. This large a field, should it be proven, would be among the world's largest non-tar-sands fields. It would end Cuban dependence on Venezuela for both energy and cash, making Cuba politically independent for the first time in its history. In which direction would it go? Without having to please anyone but its customers, and assuming oil prices remain high, how would it invest its pool of sovereign wealth? Would it remain aligned with Chavez? Would it expand its third-world medical provision or would it return to exporting revolution?

Yet an outcome that, because of the embargo, excludes U.S. and, indeed, Western investment, is still second best for Cuba. Cuba's tourist industry is still and will remain a major source of national income. Allowing Chinese and/or Indian oil exploration and development companies to drill comes with a significantly increased risk of spoiling Cuba's beaches and territorial waters. As the pollution reports ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics showed, China has put industrial output well ahead of the environment and human health. While certainly not 100 percent safe, the much more advanced drilling technology, and the deep-water drilling technology necessary for the Cuban fields, is largely controlled by Western firms who are restricted by Helms-Burton.

It is also bad for the United States. For a whole host of reasons, the United States needs to turn the page with Latin America and Cuba is the first step. Brazil is a rising power, Venezuela is a rising problem, and lasting solutions to our immigration problem will only come from sustainable development in the region, creating a market to which the U.S. will want access.

Fifty years of embargo have not worked as a tool for changing Cuba's regime or politics. Twenty billion barrels of oil conclusively ends the right wing fantasy that has kept the sanctions in place. Financially and therefore politically independent, American influence over Cuba will come from proximity, exchange, trade, and respect. It is best that we shift policy gears so that these more legitimate ties that bind have a chance at forestalling a further turn away from a productive rapprochement between our two countries.

Whatever way you slice it, the utility of the U.S. embargo to Cuba, already in negative territory, just lurched further into the red. Now the question is how to help Cuba become more like Norway and less like Venezuela. For that, our embargo is precisely the wrong policy.

Now the pathway is clear. The U.S. needs to lift the embargo one way or another, to help Cuba get through the hunger coming this winter. Let Cuba spend its oily credits right here in the U.S. of A. We then need to make a decisive policy shift after a new President takes office. If the oil estimate is a bluff, the Cuban people can judge their government's ability to manage the country with massive foreign debts and without the ready-made excuse of the embargo. If the oil really is there, the U.S. needs to encourage Havana to become a tropical Oslo, not a second Caracas.

Miami Herald Endorses Obama, cites difference in Cuba Policy with McCain

Not the first reason given, but worth noting from a paper that is extremely sensitive to Cuban American opinion:

"Closer to home, Sen. McCain strongly supports Bush administration policies on Cuba. Sen. Obama also supports the embargo, but would be more likely to dissolve recently imposed restraints on travel and remittances to Cuba."

Full text here

However, the Herald backed hard line anti-travel Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart. His Democratic challenger, Joe Garcia also favors travel for Cuban-Americans. The Herald did endorse Raul Martinez over Lincoln Diaz-Balard*, noting only that both advocated a "free Cuba", although Raul supports family travel while Lincoln does not. Like Obama, both Garcia and Martinez are so far silent about the human right of the rest of us to freedom of travel.

Related question: Senator Bob Menendez and Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz made a quick pivot after the primaries to support and speak for Obama. Are they also embracing his commitment to unrestricted Cuban American travel and remittances, and unconditional negotiations with Cuba's leaders?

I noticed an intriguing quote in a Herald article by Beth Reinhard

''This was one of the best receptions I got,'' Menendez said in a telephone interview from Washington. ``The economic message that Obama is delivering is falling on receptive ears among those who in the past were driven more by ideological issues, like Cuba.''

Does characterizing Cuba as an "ideological issue" suggest that Menendez is moving away from his past hard line position?

--John McAuliff

* A previous version of this post mistakenly said that the Herald had endorsed Lincoln Diaz-Balart.