In Miami, politicians struggle with ethics of doing business with Cuba
BY PATRICIA MAZZEI
AND MIMI WHITEFIELD
The panel of three local mayors discussing how the United States should
approach doing business with Cuba was going predictably Friday until
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a likely Democratic candidate for
Florida governor, brought up a word that, once upon a time in Miami,
might have caused a political maelstrom: invasion.
"Why aren't we discussing the invasion of the island?" Levine said.
He wasn't endorsing the idea of a military incursion. A few moments
earlier, Levine had argued that the best way to help Cubans themselves
was to engage in open commerce with the island.
But he had no support for the expanded-business position from his
colleagues, Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason and Doral Mayor J.C. Bermudez.
Cason, a Republican former head of the U.S. diplomatic mission in
Havana, had in fact espoused the opposite view, questioning the ethics
of any business that would enrich the pockets of the Cuban military.
So Levine made his provocative remark, predicting that a U.S.-led
military operation "would probably take 24 hours at best."
A few people in the crowd chuckled. Neither Bermudez nor Cason took him
seriously. Levine later told the Miami Herald he'd been trying to
highlight — perhaps inartfully — that opponents of the Obama
administration's Cuba opening, like Cason, couldn't offer any better
The surprising exchange reflected how much the conversation on Cuba has
changed in Miami. The suggestion that American troops might land on
Cuban shores — a failed strategy under former President John F. Kennedy
— is now a laugh line. The question of what to do instead, however,
remains difficult for local politicians to answer.
"I want the people in Cuba to have civil rights," said Bermudez, who was
born on the island. "I certainly don't want the kleptocracy that exists
in Russia. I do not want Vietnam."
The three mayors spoke at Barry University as part of a day-long
conference organized by the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public
Trust that tried to grapple with the ethical, legal and regulatory
implications of doing business with Cuba.
While there are many conferences about how to do business with Cuba, "no
one has dealt with this ethics issue straight on," said Joe Centorino,
the ethics commission's executive director. "While much has been said
about the cultural and commercial hurdles facing American companies
adjusting to the new, open business climate after six decades of the
trade embargo, there has been little discussion regarding ethical issues."
The topic is a bit unusual for the commission, which usually explores
ethical conduct in local government. "We don't deal with international
issues here, but there are local issues that have come up related to
Cuba," Centorino said.
Asked why the commission isn't also examining the ethics of, say, doing
business with China, Centorino responded: "China isn't 90 miles away."
Gov. Rick Scott recently threatened to cut off state funding from
seaports that did business with Cuba's "dictator." Port Everglades and
the Port of Palm Beach both canceled plans to sign agreements with the
National Port Administration of Cuba that could have led to joint
marketing studies and other cooperation.
There also have been efforts to prevent companies that do business with
Cuba from winning government contracts. A 2012 Florida law that
prohibited state and local governments from hiring companies with
business ties to Cuba for big contracts never went into effect after a
federal appeals court ruled it unconstitutional because Florida was
trying to set foreign policy, a power of the federal government.
The idea that Cuban consulate might at some point in the future be
located in Miami has also been hotly debated since the U.S. and Cuba
renewed diplomatic relations in 2015, but to date the only missions Cuba
has on U.S. soil are its embassy in Washington and its permanent mission
at the United Nations in New York.
None of those specific issues came up during the mayors' discussion.
Instead, they urged Miamians traveling to Cuba to meet with independent
political voices, dissidents, regular Cubans — anyone not just spouting
the Cuban government line.
"We are all in agreement that this is a brutal dictatorship that has
enslaved the people of Cuba for way, way too many years," Levine said.
Source: Miami politicians struggle with ethics of doing business with
Cuba | Miami Herald -
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