Commentary: The real reason Trump wanted Cuba restrictions
OPINION By Jonathan C. Brown - Special to the American-Statesman
Posted: 4:00 p.m. Saturday, June 24, 2017
President Donald Trump's reversal of his predecessor's Cuban policies
proves once again that all politics are local. The White House says that
the regime of Raúl Castro should reform its own political structure,
become more democratic and release political prisoners. However, the
U.S. does not impose these broad internal reforms on other nations such
as Russia and Saudi Arabia. Why treat Cuba differently?
Only one American serviceman has died confronting Havana. He was an Air
Force pilot shot down in Cuban airspace during the 1962 missile crisis.
On the other hand, Washington has renewed political and trade relations
with the autocratic regimes in China and Vietnam despite their armed
forces having killed thousands of American soldiers in the Korean and
Washington continues to punish Cuba because of U.S. domestic politics.
Nearly a million refugees fled from Cuba since 1959, and most settled in
South Florida. Those who came for political reasons formed a powerful
lobby that has been instrumental in the making of every Republican
president from Richard Nixon to, yes, Trump. Republican Party debts
remain more important in the U.S. relationship with Cuba than the
island's actual behavior on the international scene.
Here is where domestic politics enters the equation. Punishing Cuba
satisfies only one dwindling constituency in this nation — Cuban
refugees mainly from the first two decades of the revolution. U.S. Rep.
Mario Díaz-Balart — who stood prominently at Trump's side as he signed
the renewed restrictions — serves as a case in point.
In the 1950s, the congressman's father, Rafael Díaz-Balart, served as
Fulgencio Batista's deputy minister of the interior, the ministry
responsible for internal security and running the prisons. Rafael
Díaz-Balart and other officers of Batista's dictatorship fled from Cuba
during the first weeks of the Cuban Revolution in January 1959.
What is more, the elder Díaz-Balart's sons have family ties to the
Castros. Mario and his brother Lincoln, the ex-U.S. congressman from
South Florida, are cousins of Fidel Castro's first-born son, Fidelito,
who remains loyal to the revolution. They owe this family link to their
aunt, Mirta Díaz-Balart, who married Fidel before he began his rebellion
against the Batista regime. The couple divorced in 1954 while Fidel was
spending time in brother-in-law Rafael's prisons.
This first wave of pro-Batista refugees established several anti-Castro
movements in the Miami and New York areas as early as 1959. Soon
thereafter, they were joined in exile by a massive wave of politicos who
had opposed Batista along with Fidel but found themselves pushed aside
as Castro's guerrilla revolutionaries seized control of most
governmental institutions. Among the refugees were Catholic activists
and middle-class youths from the universities whose departure from Cuba
by the thousands was financed by the CIA and other U.S. agencies. For
more than a half century they have been taking their revenge on those
countrymen who remained with Fidel.
By 1981, the most politicized of these two groups — the Batistianos and
the exiled moderate revolutionists — joined together in the Cuban
American National Foundation (CANF).
Modeled on pro-Israeli Jewish groups, the CANF dedicated itself to
lobbying the U.S. government to tighten restrictions on American travel
and trade with Cuba. The foundation raised money for political
candidates mainly but not exclusively from the Republican Party who
promised no quarter for Castro's communist dictatorship. Their effective
anti-communist campaign lasted well beyond the fall of Fidel's chief
benefactor, the Soviet Union.
Yet, Fidel did not fall. Fidel was able to rule for 47 years, retire
peacefully and leave power to his brother.
Trump's directive will achieve two out of three of its intentions. 1) It
will reduce U.S. investments and tourism in Cuba. 2) It will satisfy the
resentments of the first generation Cuban-Americans for the loss of
their homeland to the revolutionaries; in gratitude, they will support
the president's re-election in 2020.
But the new Cuba policy will not promote democracy on the island but
reinforce autocracy at the expense of the average Cuban's well-being.
This has been the legacy of the U.S. economic blockade of the past 60 years.
Brown is a professor of history at the University of Texas.
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