Joe Garcia

A "New Day" for the Cuban-American Community in South Florida

One of NDN's most ambitious projects these past few years has been to help bring change to our outdated and ineffective policy toward Cuba, while liberating South Florida itself from the stranglehold of a very powerful hard-liner political machine that has grown up around the Cuba debate these past decades.

In these past few years, NDN, and its predecessor, the New Democrat Network, has run TV ads in South Florida attacking the ineffectiveness of the hard-liner strategy (embedded below); we've held events promoting a "new day" in the Cuban-American community; we polled extensively in Southern Florida, showing how the attitudes of Cuban-American community are changing; we've chonicled the broader demographic changes of the Hispanic community in Florida; we promoted a new policy toward Cuba, embraced now by U.S. Sen. Barack Obama in his Presidential campaign; we conducted dozens of press interviews on TV, radio, in print, in English and Spanish, doing head-to-head battle with the forces of the old guard; we blogged and blogged about it here; and now excitedly, one of the architects of this strategy, Joe Garica (along with Sergio Bendixen), is running a very competitive race for Congress in South Florida against one of the greatest defenders of the old way, Mario Diaz-Balart.

This "new day" in South Florida is explored in great depth in the The New York Times Magazine today by David Rieff, in article called, Will Little Havana Go Blue? He writes:

In the past, both Democratic and Republican contenders tried to conform to the hard-line expectations they perceived as the overwhelming consensus within the Cuban-American community. But Obama has recently strayed from orthodoxy by criticizing aspects of the American embargo on Cuba and asserting that he is prepared to open talks with the regime. This might seem like a golden opportunity for McCain to solidify his hold on the Cuban-American vote, but Obama's views appear to be resonating in Cuban Miami more than anyone could have predicted. Two Democratic Congressional candidates in the Miami area - Joe Garcia and Raul Martinez - were added last month to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's list of potential "red to blue" conversions, bringing to 37 the number of seats nationally that the Democrats hope to flip away from the Republicans. For the first time, the hard-line consensus is being challenged. There is real debate in Cuban Miami these days about the embargo, above all about the series of further restrictions that were imposed by the Bush administration in 2003 and 2004. These limited travel for so-called people-to-people educational exchanges, abolished the category of "fully hosted" travel (under which travel to and from Cuba was underwritten by non-U.S. citizens and which Washington long suspected of being a scheme for money-laundering), reduced family visits to once every three years and limited the sending of money from Cubans or Cuban-Americans living in the United States to the sender's immediate family - parents, siblings, children - rather than, as before, to his or her extended family. A decade ago, support for such restrictions and any other confrontational policy was a certainty in Cuban South Florida. So was its domestic corollary: dependable support for Republicans both locally and nationally. Today, and quite suddenly, that unwavering support for Republicans is no longer a given.

Sergio Bendixen e-mailed me yesterday saying that we all should be very proud of this piece, and of the work we've done in South Florida these past few years. I am proud. But I hope, too, that those in the NDN community who've been a part of this path-breaking effort also are proud of what we've been able to accomplish - so far.

And what all this also means is that in this year, when the Presidential campaign has dominated the national political debate, there are some races in South Florida that while, ostensibly local affairs, will end up having a profound impact on the politics of Florida, and our policy toward Cuba and all of the Caribbean and Latin America. Look for the true national and international import of these races to become well understood in the next few weeks, and for these South Florida races to become among the most heavily covered, heavily financed and heavily contested of all the races for Congress this year.

NDNer Joe Garcia is running for Congress

As a non-partisan think tank and advocacy organization, NDN does not endorse candidates for federal office. But I do want to report in on a race that may be of great interest to many in our community. The long-time director of all of our path-breaking work in the Hispanic community, Joe Garcia, announced yesterday that he is running to unseat Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart in the Miami-based 25th Congressional District in Florida.

To check in to see how Joe is doing in his first 24 hours as a Congressional candidate check out this piece (which includes a very good local TV news story about his announcement) and visit his site.

As for the fate of our Hispanic work, look at the posts below about the historic Hispanic participation rates this year. Our new Vice President for Hispanic Programs, Andres Ramirez, is already making his mark with quick and strong analyses, and is, in the language of the day, fired up and ready to go.

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