Paul Ryan made the requisite campaign stop at Miami’s Versailles Restaurant yesterday, sipped a cafecito with Jeb and Ileana, hugged the young Cuban waitresses (poured into those tight green uniforms), and stumped for his ticket before a roomful of jubilant GOP supporters. As the Miami Herald reported, Ryan claimed his Cuban-American counterparts in Congress have reset his thinking on US-Cuba policy:
“They’ve given me a great education — lots of us in Congress — about how we need to clamp down on the Castro regime,” Ryan told supporters at the Versailles restaurant.
“…“We will not keep practicing [Obama's] policy of appeasement,” Ryan said. “We will be tough on this brutal dictator.”
Nevermind that Obama’s policy has done more to stir the forces of change inside the island than anything achieved under W, Clinton, Poppa Bush, and Reagan combined, but that’s a post for another day.
The New York Times reported that Ryan told the crowd at Versailles he learned about the brutal Castro regime ”from friendships”, which suggests he was either (a) inexplicably unaware that Cuba was run by a dictatorship when he opposed the embargo; (b) would change his pro-trade position on China if Chen Guangcheng were to have him over for dinner; or (c) is fudging the truth about his position for political gain.
There are two ways to interpret what really happened at Versailles yesterday:
1) Paul Ryan, once a strong anti-embargo advocate, has since been enlightened on the effectiveness of this policy by the Cuban-American congressional delegation, and is now an ardent anti-Castro hardliner himself, who happens to be on this years GOP presidential ticket.
Meanwhile, the Cuban-American community – which stands UNITED on the embargo, and is known for its forgiving nature – genuinely believes Ryan has been rehabilitated, has absolved him of all past transgressions, and wholeheartedly embraces his candidacy thanks to his anti-embargo bonafides.
2) Paul Ryan continues to believe the embargo is a failed and unproductive policy. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently reported:
A decade ago, Ryan was clear in his opposition to the embargo.
“If we think engagement works well with China, well, it ought to work well with Cuba,” Ryan said in a 2002 interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The embargo doesn’t work. It is a failed policy. It was probably justified when the Soviet Union existed and posed a threat through Cuba. I think it’s become more of a crutch for Castro to use to repress his people. All the problems he has, he blames the American embargo.”
Ryan said at that time that the “more we have a free exchange of people and ideas and customs, the more the people of Cuba will be exposed to the values of freedom and liberty.”
Ryan acknowledged in the 2002 interview that Cuban-Americans “have their reasons” for supporting the embargo “and they’re very passionate about their reasons, I just don’t agree with them and never have.”
Ryan did vote against easing trade sanctions on Cuba in 2007.
However, in a 2008 interview with the Journal Sentinel, he returned to his earlier rhetoric, saying, “if we’re going to have free trade with China, why not Cuba?”
Keep in mind that today the vocal opposition inside Cuba is louder and stronger than ever. There are less political prisoners in Cuban jails than anytime since Castro took power. As of 2010, Cubans can now buy and sell their homes and cars, and even start their own private businesses – many of these transactions financed by their relatives in Miami and abroad.
So it would seem like an odd time for Ryan to trade in his pro-engagement stance on Cuba for an isolationist one.
But Ryan’s Cuban-American “friends” in Congress coaxed him into renouncing his long-held position or else risk losing the Cuban-American vote. Their effort was joined by former representative and Fidel Castro nephew Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who retired from Congress in 2010 to start his own Cuban political party in exile, The White Rose, and the delegation’s lobbyist lackey Mauricio Claver Carone, whose salary is paid by Leopoldo Fernandez-Pujals, a Cuban exile businessman who once told a German newspaper that he intended to use the proceeds from the $360 million sale of his pizza company to topple the government of Fidel Castro and become the next president of Cuba.
To assuage the small but affluent donor base of Mr. Claver-Carone’s PAC, as well as elderly Cuban voters, Lincoln and posse have repeated over and over that Ryan is “good on Cuba”, even though there is little proof to support this claim beyond his talking-point-heavy, substance-free pandering at Versailles yesterday.
Meanwhile, Cuban-American voters – like any sensible people – don’t buy that Ryan has renounced his long held beliefs on the embargo. But since the bulk of them have lost faith in hardline Cuba policies, the Republican ones quickly fall in line behind Ryan in support of his conservative fiscal and social positions, while refusing to call him out on Cuba so their abuelitos will also vote for the guy.
Tell us, which version do you think is more likely?