CIP and the Latin America Working Group hosted five Cuban Americans on Capitol Hill—four of them Miamians—in two days of visits and a briefing that highlighted the changing political face of Miami. The message they unequivocally delivered was that a sizable majority (60%) of Cuban Americans in south Florida now favors engagement with Cuba, and that the area’s hardline congressional representatives do not reflect the views of most of their constituents on the issue. The group also pointed out that Cuba itself is restructuring and evolving, and it would be to the advantage of the United States to have a voice in the process. In meetings with more than a dozen new members or their staffs from Midwestern farm states and Florida, responses were encouraging. Both Republicans and Democrats expressed frustration with the status quo and openness to change.
Cuban Americans under 40 are driving the change in outlook, but many older Miami Cubans agree it’s time for a new policy. The Cuban American Washington visitors were born in Cuba and (with one exception) left in the 1960s and 1970s, and last week they came to make the case to Congress. Legislation to lift the embargo is highly unlikely in this Congress, but the Obama Administration can significantly alter policy through administrative action—and start discussions with the Cuban government. Our group urged legislators to give the President the political space to do so, and to let him know he has it.
Actions that the President can take that would improve relations with Cuba include removing Cuba from the state sponsors’ of terrorism list, easing travel to the island by permitting all “purposeful” travel with a general, rather than specific, license, and loosening financial requirements for agricultural sales. Myriad other bilateral issues, including the incarceration of USAID contractor Alan Gross, could likely be negotiated as a package if the White House would only sit down and talk.
Coincidentally, the Cuban-American visit overlapped with that of well-known Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, who spoke on Capitol Hill and at several other Washington venues. Though under no illusion that the blogosphere will bring democracy to Cuba, she said it’s helping to open “cracks in the wall of censorship.” She advocated lifting the U.S. embargo, in part to remove the “first and foremost excuse for everything.” “I doubt the government could continue to function without it,” she said.