The damage has already been done. Although it is assumed by unofficial results that Joe Biden will be sworn in as the new president of the United States next January 20th, Donald Trump’s electoral strategy towards the Cuban American community has accomplished its mission.
Cuba was so present in Miami’s electoral race that sometimes it resembled a popular meeting in Havana. A change of regime in Cuba and Venezuela has again become the goose of the golden votes for the Republican Party.
Joe Biden, despite winning more votes in South Florida, did not get enough support to counteract the state’s rural areas. In fact, compared to the 2016 election, Donald Trump added 200.000 more votes in Miami-Dade County. Consequently, he can claim that the majority of Latino votes he won were mostly Cuban votes granted to him in Florida.
Trump has been able to manipulate this community’s sentiments without having to make any major political concessions, especially those related to Cuba and Venezuela. He did not approve the Temporary Protected Status (TPS), or any other legislation regulating the thousands of Venezuelans who are currently in the United States, and he keeps thousands of Cuban refugees in immigration detention centers while increasing the number of deportations to the archipelago. Many of the measures that brought the highest amount of pressure against Cuba were implemented in the midst of the electoral race.
The highly polarized atmosphere in the “exile capital” is a wake-up call for any political party. Republicans will continue to take advantage of deep-rooted passions against the Cuban government to serve its own purposes, and Democrats may take this as a precaution to distance themselves from policies that can compromise them at the polls.
Obama was instrumental in restoring diplomatic relations only when he had no election left to win and during a time when Miami favored a rapprochement with the island. Although the reestablishment of relations is now part of the Democrat Party’s platform, surveys do not reflect the same spirits as in 2014.
It is very important to note that Republicans Carlos Giménez and María Elvira Salazar, known for their opposition to any dialogue with Havana´s regime, are now occupying the seats of Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, respectively. This leaves Miami-Dade County without blue members of Congress in Washington, and increases the number of Cuban Americans in the 117th U.S. Congress to seven, making it difficult to envision the implementation of any policy towards Cuba without any previous consultation or negotiation with some of them.
Among these members of Congress, all are in favor of maintaining the current policy of sanctions, and two of them hold leading roles. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are, respectively, second and third in importance in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This is relevant because Bob Menendez will become the Committee’s chairman if Democrats win the Senate. If Republicans keep control, Menendez will maintain his position as second in charge, and Rubio will continue to lead the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and aim at running foreign policy affairs from the Senate. While the committee’s current leader, Jim Risch (R-ID), may be under pressure from farmers in his state to allow more trade with Cuba, he is unlikely to contradict his fellow committee members of Cuban origin: Menendez, Rubio and Ted Cruz (R-TX).
According to the 2020 FIU Cuba Poll, perhaps the most prestigious in reflecting the opinion of Cuban Americans in Miami, about 64% of those interviewed agree with Donald Trump’s restrictive immigration policies, and 67% agree with his policies of confrontation towards the Cuban government. In fact, among those Cubans who are not yet citizens (meaning that they have not completed the five years of residency in the United States), about 60% of them support the embargo against Cuba. Of the latter, approximately 90% of them still have family on the archipelago. The irony is that this group of recently emigrated Cubans would benefit the most from a policy of rapprochement between the two countries.
The Republican Party has succeeded in portraying Biden (a traditional, moderate politician) and the rest of the Democratic Party as socialists in the style of Chávez, Maduro, or Castro. Conservative support from local celebrities was decisive among a sector of the population that follows a small portion of media outlets, most of which do not meet professional journalistic standards.
This alliance between the Republican Party and some alternative media outlets has proven to be a perfect conduit for Trump’s style of politics as spectacle. Conservative politicians have attracted a new wave of Cubans by using local celebrities that exploit their resentment towards the regime in Havana. Local sensationalists have also gained powerful sponsors at the same time. Consequently, it is not surprising that far-right tendencies have gained strength in South Florida and are being embraced by some Latinos.
Ironically, those who favor a boycott against normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries are often those who have the closest relations to Cuban society. The average Cuban who consumes far-right propaganda was raised in Cuba, travels to the island once or several times a year, and sends remittances. These Cubans show disdain for social policies, but at the same time aspire to have Medicaid or Medicare. They have similarly discovered that the open carry of handguns is as important as showing off the cars they drive.
On both shores, the Communist Party and the Republican Party have adopted the same strategies to confront each other, whether it is storming one of the United Nations halls or the Michigan State Capitol, attempting to silence a speaker at the Human Rights Council or at the House Judiciary Committee, or preventing the organization of peaceful protests. Hatred for the opponent has corroded both parties’ political discourse. One side calls the other “cattle tick” or “paid sock puppets;” on the other side, the worst insult in the world is summed up in one word: “communist.” The objective is the same: to dehumanize and avoid mutual dialogue.
It is important for the Democratic Party to erase an issue as obsolete as the conflict with Cuba from its agenda. Even when conflict is the raison d’être of both the Ideological Department of the Central Committee and of Radio TV Martí, continuing to finance the Miami-based hate propaganda using U.S. taxpayers’ money only works against both nations´ interests. The suffering of families cannot be the price to pay for the political preference of a few.
The new administration’s foreign policy towards Cuba will probably be based on eliminating sanctions contrary to humanitarian principles and attempting to normalize relations. However, in my opinion, this rapprochement will be much more moderate compared to Obama’s second term.
There exists some disappointment among Democratic officials concerning the Cuban government’s slow steps towards the normalization of relations during the Obama administration. In addition, in order to remove all sanctions against Cuba, it is vital that Democrats gain absolute control of both houses in Congress, something that is still uncertain in the Senate.
Although tourism to the island may represent an economic boost, the Cuban government was unable to compete against other destinations in the region for investments made by U.S. companies. With the absence of a bureaucracy prepared to understand the speed needed to adapt to a globalized world and the rules to attract investors, it is very unlikely that the international sensation caused by the bilateral announcement made on December 17, 2014 will repeat itself. There is no doubt that U.S. companies will want to invest in the virgin Cuban market, but euphoria is unlikely, and results will be incremental over several years, even decades. It is important to note that increasing the import of American goods does not mean a boost to local industry.
Even though the Ministry of Foreign Relations (MINREX) has expressed its political will to normalize relations with the White House and the community of Cubans living abroad, President Díaz-Canel’s government has been excessively timid in its implementation of necessary and demanded reforms. Some of them have been limited, such as eliminating passport renewal fees and increasing their validity to ten years. To say nothing of democratic changes. The Cuban government cannot maintain the contradiction of desiring its emigrant community’s dollars, but not its voices. Nor the inconsistency of being a member of the Human Rights Council without having ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Defense cannot consist on focusing on the straw in the eye of the other.
If the Cuban government really wants to effectively reestablish relations in a lasting way with the United States, it must first and unequivocally normalize relations with its emigrant community and be able to intelligently remove the Cuban issue from its northern neighbor’s domestic affairs. It must eliminate the goose of the golden votes once and for all.
This article was translate of original in Spanish.