The Cuba Libre Cha-Cha-Cha

The incoming Republican Congress has outlined its priorities. They largely come down to opposing Obama initiatives, pleasing their donors and trying to look grown up enough to deserve to retain power in 2016 and win the presidency if they can find a plausible candidate.

They will begin by approving the XL pipeline to allow Canadian oil to cross America before setting sail for foreign buyers. This was a lot bigger deal when oil was at $100 rather than $50. They also want to cut taxes for the rich and government services for the poor and to provide health care for fewer people. And then there’s Cuba.

If the president hadn’t decided an ancient embargo begun under Ike was a pointless remnant of the Cold War, Cuba wouldn’t be on the radar of the Republicans. Many might have trouble finding it on a map or answering a quiz show question on Batista (see The Godfather 2), the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis or Desi Arnaz. But if Obama’s for something, they’re against it.

Like most embargoes, this one harms the powerless masses, not the powerful despots it’s aimed at. It also gives the tyrants a propaganda villain to blame for their country’s troubles and to distract attention from their own culpability for having ruined a society by worshipping the false god of Communism.

Ideology, however, is not the real reason Republicans have been galvanized and certainly not human rights. Cuba, with a population of 11 million, is about the size of Chad, Poland, Portugal, Bolivia and South Sudan. Little has been heard about most of those over the last 50 years despite equally unpleasant regimes in many cases.

But Cuba is nearby. It was aligned with the Soviets during the Cold War who tried to make it a launch pad for missiles aimed at us. We embarrassingly were taken by surprise by Castro’s communist ideology, but if it had oil all would have been forgiven long ago. No, Cuba has sent a lot of refugees in our direction, which begins to get at the heart of the matter.

Those who fled to save their lives and escape oppression lost their homes and homeland. They deserve our sympathy, but they have loomed a lot larger than those who fled equally vile circumstances in Russia, China, Vietnam, Poland, Czechoslovakia and so on. They came, they sorrowed, they became Americans.

Only Cuban-Americans, their homeland ninety miles away, still live in the expectation that the United States will sooner or later oust Castro and recreate paradise lost. An understandable dream, perhaps, but why do Republicans continue to give false hope and dance to their tune? The answer is Florida electoral college politics.

The Sunshine State is now the third largest, tied with New York with 29 electoral votes. Only Texas and California have more. Florida went for Clinton twice, George W. Bush twice, (with an asterisk for the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision) and twice for Obama. Lately, as Florida goes, so goes the presidency.

It ought to be a bright red Republican stronghold since it has the highest percentage of voters over 65 who unaccountably keep voting for the party that wants to cut back or eliminate Social Security and Medicare. It has the lowest percentage of people under 18. Florida has a high percentage of Catholic voters, 26 percent, also generally a conservative voting bloc and is 18 percent Hispanic.

At about 2 million, Cuban-Americans make up only a small percent of all Hispanics in the country, 3.6 percent, but 1.2 million of Cuban-Americans are in one state — Florida. Even there they are only about six percent of Florida’s 20 million population, but they have money, clout, are politically active and vote. In a close election they can swing Florida from Blue to Red or visa versa.

Furthermore, two Cuban-Americas, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz may run for president in 2016 and Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and presidential wannabe is married to an hispanic, though Mexican not Cuban. So there are plenty of reasons for Republicans to figure politics based on Castro bashing (which now qualifies as elder abuse) and embargo boosting might appeal to a substantial voting bloc, might even tip Florida into their column in 2016.

Trouble is America assimilates its immigrants. Most Cuban-Americans have never set foot in the country of their ancestors. The elders burn with an unending hatred of Castro, but for their children and grandchildren life is here and so are the issues that win their votes. Of Cuban-Americans 18 to 49, 56 percent vote Democratic. Obama got 49 percent of Cuban-American Floridians in 2012 to Mitt Romney’s 47 percent.

Once again the Republicans are casting their lot with the old rather than the young, the reactionary rather than the progressive, the past rather than the future. It may work, but it may look like one more anti-immigrant ploy. Do they really want all those Cuban-americans to go back where they come from? The enthusiasm for the embargo surely looks like a defense of an obsolete status quo from frozen in time Cold Warriors who don’t notice we won and Khrushchev, Mao and Castro lost.

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