Friday, November 5, 2010

It Ain't Your Father's Cuba (but is it still his exile?)

My friend and colleague Arturo Lopez-Levy just sent me the following link to his new commentary in Foreign Policy magazine written in reaction to the election of Marco Rubio to the US Senate and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's move to become head of the Committee on Foreign Relations now that the Republicans control Congress.

I've heard Arturo's argument before and he makes it well.

The problem is that we keep waiting for this "new generation" of Cuban migrants to make their voices heard by breaking with the old school hardliners and electing someone with a more pragmatic, pro-engagement approach to Cuba.

But it hasn't happened.

Either they're so disillusioned with politics that they refuse to vote; not enough time has gone by for them to become citizens, register, and vote; or they in fact are voting but find the Rubios, Riveras, Ros-es, and Diaz-Balarts more to their liking than their more moderate Cuban-American comperitors.

Obama's election two years ago indicated that this generational sea change might indeed be underway. He won Florida without taking the typical hardline on Cuba and though he lost the overall Cuban-American vote, he did rather well with Cuban-American youth.

However, in that same 2008 election all the usual suspects, Ileana, Lincoln, and Mario were re-elected, two of them defeating moderate Cuban-American pragmatists. Now, two years later, Mario took Lincoln's seat as he retired, the hardliner David Rivera easily defeated pragmatist Joe Garcia, and Ileana is poised to take over as head of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Even more important in terms of the supposed eminent generational shift, for the first time an actual member of the supposedly more "suave" ABC (American-Born Cuban) generation has been elected to the Senate. He's just 39 and not himself an exile. However, he seems to be as much of a hardliner (or more) than his grandfather's generation.

In fact, in every speech I've seen him give, he proudly invokes that generation's sacrifice and suffering, pledging to honor it by refusing to engage in any way with what he pointedly calls the "illegitimate" leaders of Cuba. If this "kid" does not represent the Cuban-American community and is so out of touch, how did he emerge from relative obscurity and slay the supposed moderate Republican "giant" that was Charlie Crist?

* * *

Here's the link to Arturo's article followed by a few key quotes.

Not Your Father's Cuba
What Marco Rubio and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen don't get about the new generation of Cuban-Americans.

"Over recent decades, however, a funny thing has happened: The Cuban exile community, in Miami and elsewhere in the United States, has grown apart from the politicians who represent its interests in Washington. Miami's Cubans may keep voting for Ros-Lehtinen and Rubio, but they no longer agree with them."

"What Cubans -- even those who were just as disenchanted with the communist regime as the first-generation exiles -- saw when they looked at Miami was a group fixated on punishing Castro, even if it came at the expense of the Cuban people."

"Neither Ros-Lehtinen nor Rubio speaks to the aspirations and outlook of this new majority -- and indeed, if you look closely at the voting patterns in exile community, you can see cracks in the foundation of the bloc beginning to emerge."

"None of Obama's most Cuba-relevant foreign policy officials -- soon-to-be-National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon, Obama's senior advisor on Latin America Dan Restrepo, Secretary for Hemispheric Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, and Valenzuela's senior advisor for Cuba, Dan Erikson -- have ever defended the embargo as an effective policy."

"The circumstances are ripe for Obama to put U.S.-Cuba relations on the path to de-escalation. And no one should be surprised if, an election or two down the road, Cuban Americans vote their approval."

Arturo Lopez-Levy is a lecturer at the Colorado School of Mines and a Ph.D. candidate at the Josef Korbel School of the University of Denver.


  1. The clan Castro can not expect policy change without conceding at least some elemental changes in the way it treats its "constituency" in USA. The embargo that the family dynasty has on Cubans living abroad should end, if they are ever serious on changing USA policies ...

  2. Much more light must be thrown on this and other topics vis-à-vis the changing state of things in the US where Republicans have gained ground due to Obama' s Cuba-related lack of vision and his tendency to rule from the Right!

    Washington should take steps beyond the lines of compliance with Cuban-American voters... which obviously brought no good results for Obama in the last November elections.

    Washington should also send back the ball to the Cuban leaders’ s court with facts and positive actions. If he fails to do that he would evidence his lack of honesty, coherence and boldness he will send the wrong message.... to whom?
    Obama has nothing to lose by sticking to his words to bring change into US-Cuba relations. No need for Obama to learn from DEFEAT!

    With Ileana Ros-Lehtinen having a stronger clout now at the House of Representative I sincerely doubt that pro-Cuba Travel Ban lifting efforts stand a chance to succeed.. not in the near term!. Hard-line ideologues such as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, will strongly oppose any positive and coherent motions in the HR to make “some” changes happen.
    Control of the House International Relations Committee will overwhelmingly damage Obama's Cuba-related efforts and his policies to bring up more effective and engaging opening towards Cuba.

    What has Obama done to reciprocate the steps taken by the Cuban Government so far? Do we need to name those steps? While some of those steps are considered "COSMETIC" by many Cubans living in the island, many are also the voices and eyes raised abroad celebrating and welcoming those changes as good-will gestures and well-intentioned changes: The release of Cuban political prisoners and the NOT-SO-NEW economic reforms intended to liberalize my country' s troubled economy and lift restrictions which smother the people and keep the nation and its people stagnant in all respects.

    Cuba-U.S. relations could be on the brink of a new era. Cuba has demonstrated willingness to respectfully engage with the US on outstanding issues, and has given President Obama the great and unprecedented opportunity to make substantial changes in policies towards the island. Obama, in return, needs to bring Cuba to the front burner in terms of discussions and decision-making, even by mandate…. “YES… HE CAN”… one would daresay by quoting him…ops!

    Mr. Obama needs to reverse what people think about him right now in regards to Cuba: “He doesn't have what it takes to make the historic change in Cuba policy”.

    Would Mr. Barack Obama be willing to objectively rethink previous Administrations' s policies regarding Cuba? Would he gather what it takes for him to re-write the history?

    Cuba is not making concessions to the US, as many would like to think or wrongly assume. The island' s leaders are just responding to necessity to continue to re-invent the country' s economy and to guarantee that achievements for the people still be there for them. Cuba is taking strong and difficult measures to address its economic conditions despite the suffering these steps might cause on the Cuban people that still evidence support to the reformed Socialist system and its leaders.

    Not only the Cuban leaders need to reinvent the economy and introduce wide-scope domestic changes that translate into real freedoms for the Cuban people but also in the necessity for Obama and his Administration to rethink Cuba policies.

    The US has the moral obligation to lift the blockade and move away from utterly absurd, counterproductive, barbaric, genocidal and inhumane policies initiated long time ago under President John F. Kennedy.

    What would the implications be not only for Cuba but also for the US if only the Cuban and the US governments be able to advance these interests? RELAXATIONS OF TENSIONS BETWEEN U.S AND CUBAN GOVENMENTS AND ELLIMINATION OF OUTDATED COLD WAR RHETORIC; COMMITMENT, ENGAGEMENT, RAPPROCHEMENT, WARMER RELATIONS AND END OF THE U.S BLOCKADE AGAINST CUBA!, that's it!. Let’ s call spades a spade!