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Time to “Think Different” about Miami and Havana

December 3rd, 2012 | Posted by William Vidal in Cuba policy | Uncategorized

Three articles this weekend highlighted an argument we’ve long been making at On Two Shores: the hardliners in Miami and Cuba are losing ground, forward-thinking Cubans and Cuban-Americans on both sides are gaining it, and policymakers on both sides need to take notice.

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On “How Capitalists Are The Cubans?” Damien Cave notes that Cuban entrepreneurs are not waiting for their government to come around and are seizing opportunities as the appear, no matter how small they may be:

And yet, there is no longer any denying that pockets of controlled capitalism are emerging in Cuba. In Havana, in particular, small businesses are everywhere. Entire urban industries, including taxis and restaurants, are being transformed through a rush of new entrants, who are increasing competition for customers, labor and materials. Even the most elemental tasks that used to be managed by the state — such as buying food — are increasingly in the hands of a private system that sets its own prices based on supply and demand.

But mostly, this is an aging crowd and….the mentality is changing. If so, more capitalism may be inevitable. Because with every new entrepreneur it licenses, Cuba becomes less socialist, less exceptional, less of a bearded rebel raising its fist against the horrors of Yankee capitalism. In the eyes of some Cubans, the jig is already up.

90 miles away, as Brett Sokol notes in “What’s In Miami’s Bloodstream?“, a different brand of Cuban-American has established its presence at the polls:

Yet the latest data hardly depicts a monolithic Cuban-exile community marching in ideological lock step. Exit polls conducted by Bendixen & Amandi International revealed that 44 percent of Miami’s Cuban-Americans voted to re-elect President Obama last month, despite a Mitt Romney TV ad attempting to link the president with Mr. Castro. The result was not only a record high for a Democratic presidential candidate, it was also a 12 percentage-point jump over 2008.

In fact, among younger Cuban-American voters, the split between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney wasn’t even close — Mr. Obama won handily. Clearly, the demographic handwriting is on the wall, not only for the brand of hard-line conservative thinking that has often kept a stranglehold on local pols, but also for the 50-year-old United States economic embargo against Cuba, enduring only out of the perceived presidential kingmaker role held by Miami’s Cubans.

It is now indisputable that the old hardliners on both shores are being replaced by people who think differently than their parents; who have little interest in prolonging the political conflicts of the past and are oriented solely toward building a better life for themselves and their families; who believe you cannot promote democratic values in a foreign country by denying the rights of your own citizens; who see engagement as a good thing, and travel in record-breaking numbers every year to visit loved ones in Cuba; and who are looking for ways to boost economic opportunity, from selling spare parts for old Russian cars out of Hialeah, to financing their relatives’ fledgling businesses on the Island through remittances.

In short, they are the people who strengthen the cultural and economic ties between Miami and Havana day-by-day. They represent the future of our communities, not the past.

Sound too good to be true? I challenge any reader to find proof of the opposite – that hardliners on either shore are gaining marketshare instead of losing it to moderate Cubans and Cuban-Americans.

That regime repression against dissidents has escalated? Yeah, that’s because public protest in Cuba has skyrocketed, and unlike the old days, the regime is finding it increasingly difficult to silence opponents by locking them away.

That Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were elected to the U.S. Senate? Neither of them spent a penny campaigning on Cuba policy. Nor are they true believers when it comes to isolation (Rubio favors engagement with rogue countries) or economic sanctions (Cruz is a free-market disciple). Insiders will tell you that Cruz and Rubio staff get their Cuba talking points from pro-embargo lobbyist Mauricio Claver-Carone, whom neither senator particularly likes. They play along in order to keep the peace inside the Cuban-American Congressional Caucus, appease a niche network of donors in Miami, and keep Claver-Carone out of their hair.

On the other hand, South Floridians just elected Cuban-American Democrats Joe Garcia to the U.S. Congress and Jose Javier Rodriguez to the State Legislature, both supporters of President Obama’s travel and remittance policy toward Cuba.

Lawmakers must come to terms with the fact that hardliners no longer represent the will of the people.  Support for isolation is no longer coming from the streets of Miami, only from lobbyists like Claver-Carone and hardliners in Congress with a vested interest in maintaining the status-quo.

The political space for pivoting away from our failed Cuba policy has never been greater. If the White House and Congress really wish to empower Cubans entrepreneurs and reformers on the Island, now is their time to push for greater engagement with the Cuban people. But if our leaders opt to do nothing, they must admit it’s solely out of fear of their Cuban-American colleagues in Congress. The argument that isolationist policies are in the interest of the United States or the Cuban people simply does not hold sway anymore.

As for the third article I read, it was the Wall Street Journal’s excellent profile on Eddy Cue, a 48-year-old Miami native of Cuban descent who happens to be SVP of Internet Software and Services at Apple and one of the company’s most influential executives. I don’t know what his position is on Cuba, but something tells me Mr. Cue would jump at the chance to sell iPads and iPhones in Havana today.

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