With the Republican race scrambled by the South Carolina result, next Tuesday’s Florida winner-take-all primary takes on even greater importance.
That means greater competition for the support of the older, hard-line Cuban Americans who vote their Cuba beliefs in primary and general elections, and who to their credit go to the polls consistently and in large numbers.
It also means that this is a delicious, week-long moment of maximum leverage for hard-liners, where they can push the candidates to promise more and more on Cuba policy.
Mitt Romney, who has not been very specific on Cuba to date, will get more specific with a speech tomorrow. In last night’s debate he gave a preview, calling President Obama’s policy “dangerous” and criticizing new regulations that permit greater travel by Americans to Cuba.
Perhaps Romney will try to one-up Newt Gingrich, who issued this letter to Unidad Cubana containing commitments to return to the Bush travel regulations, to examine the possibility of indicting Fidel and Raul Castro for the 1996 Brothers to the Rescue Shootdown, and to allow Title III of Helms-Burton to go into effect. The latter action would allow Cuban Americans to use U.S. courts to sue foreign investors in Cuba if their investments in Cuba touch properties that the Cuban Americans possessed. (U.S. courts would then be burdened with cases involving properties in a foreign country, taken decades ago by a foreign government, with no connection to the United States except that the owner later came to the United States. A strange use of U.S. courts.) Gingrich has also promised a speech on Cuba and Latin America before next Tuesday. He is running radio ads that recall Romney’s “fatherland or death” gaffe four years ago, tie Gingrich to President Reagan, and recall that he worked “with Lincoln and Ileana” to pass the Helms-Burton Act in 1996.
As for last night’s debate (summarized here by AFP), the Cuba discussion was prefaced by the odd hypothetical question about Fidel Castro dying and hundreds of thousands of Cubans deciding to get in boats to leave forthwith.
Romney sounded a note that may get him in trouble with his target audience, depending on what people think it means when they decipher it: he would “work very aggressively with the new leadership in Cuba to try to move them towards a more open degree than they have had in the past.” Life, a more open degree, and the pursuit of happiness!
Gingrich said the policy of the U.S. government should be “to overthrow the regime” using everything at our disposal, including overt and covert means. This connects him with a long tradition of U.S. covert actions toward Cuba that are either announced outright, as he did last night, or are a matter of public knowledge, as in the Bay of Pigs invasion. And that are also inept; see Gross, Alan.
Ron Paul proceeded politely to call them both fools; see video below.
Finally, this comment by Achy Obejas notes Cuban Americans’ smaller proportion of the Florida Latino vote, and other interesting general election considerations.