US-Cuba policy on Florida ballot this year

There is an excellent piece running on Salon by Kirk Nielsen that looks at how the future of US policy towards Cuba may be altered by the outcome of 3 competitive Congressional races in South Florida this year.

Among those running in these seats is former NDN Executive Vice President, Joe Garcia, who stepped down after more than 3 years at NDN to run. While at NDN Joe led an important effort to challenge the ineffective and unpopular Bush approach to Cuba, focusing on relaxing remittances and travel to the island as a first step. This position was adopted by Senator Obama last year.

NDN believes this new opening in South Florida is coming about for at 3 reasons. First, with Castro's passing from the scene there is an historic opportunity to open a new chapter in US-Cuba relations, a subject we reviewed at length in a recent forum in DC.

Second, the current Bush policy and its GOP defenders are simply out of step with the times and the Cuban-American community itself, something we captured in a recent poll of South Florida Cuban-Americans.

Finally, the demography of Florida is changing, with the great growth in Florida Hispanics coming from new communities - 2nd generation Cuban-Americans, post-Mariel Cuban exiles, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians and others from all over Latin America. This transformation has left the Florida Hispanic electorate majority non-Cuban and majority Democrat for the 1st time since the 1960s, something we look at in our recent report, Hispanics Rising.

Taken together all of these changes are giving US leaders a chance to imagine a new day for US-Cuban relations, and a new and better day for the long-suffering people of Cuba.  So while every Congressional race matters, these 3 may have even greater significance in that their outcome could open up a new day for US relations not just in Cuba, but for all of Latin America. 

To learn more about our work in this arena vist here.

Fidel Castro steps down

After 49 years, Fidel Castro is stepping down. From the Miami Herald:

Saying he is no longer healthy enough to hold office, Cuban leader Fidel Castro has announced he will not seek reelection after 49 years in power and nearly 19 months sidelined by illness, marking the first official step in a long-awaited succession in the island's leadership.

''It would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer,'' the 81-year-old Castro wrote in a letter published in Tuesday's editions of Cuban newspapers. ``This I say devoid of all drama.''

Castro's not-unexpected announcement came just days before the Cuban National Assembly meets Sunday to select members and president of its Council of State. The president of the council is the official ruler of Cuba -- and that's been Castro since the council was established in 1976.

Our statement from 2006 when Fidel's failing health led to a transfer of power still has relevance today:

The current situation in Cuba could be the beginning of a tremendous opportunity for the Cuban people as the world anticipates the end of Fidel Castro's oppressive rule. We should proceed with cautious optimism about the possibilities in store not only for the people of Cuba but also of the Cuban exile community who have long awaited a moment like this. A transition to a democratic Cuba will not only greatly benefit the Cuban people but also will help provide much needed long-term stability for all of Latin America.

As many of you know, NDN has long advocated for a new approach to Cuba policy that eases restrictions on family travel and sending remittances to the island. In August, 2007, Senator Obama traveled to Little Havana and adopted that same approach, which you can learn more about in our poll from October, 2006. For more on our work on Cuba, check out the video below of a Forum we held in February, 2007 called After Fidel: A New Day for America's Relations with Cuba and Latin America?

Update: For those of you who are wondering how this news could affect the 2008 campaign, check out this Newsweek article by Fareed Zakaria. In it, Zakaria highlights the inherent differences between the Cuba policies of Senators Clinton and Obama. Given the news above, focusing on those differences could give the campaign an interesting twist in the coming days and weeks.

Barack Obama in Little Havana

This past Saturday, Senator Barack Obama came to Little Havana to further discuss his position on many issues, among them his plan for Cuba. I was able to introduce Senator Obama before he addressed about 1,500 people at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium. Read my remarks here. Below, please watch a video of Senator Obama's remarks on Cuba, and take a look at a few pictures from the event.

For additional coverage of Senator Obama's visit to South Florida, read Beth Reinhard's piece in the Miami Herald.

Dems evolve on Cuba

Check out my interview with The Hill on the evolving stance on Cuba:

For more information about NDN's policy on Cuba, check out our poll on the views of the Cuban exile community. Also be sure to read our statements and commentary on our blog.

Castro speaks?

For the first time in under a year, Fidel Castro spoke about the illness that led him to transfer his power to his brother, Raúl. Below are excerpts of the editorial, as featured in this article in the Miami Herald that translated Castro's words.

''I make a parenthesis to broach a topic that has to do with my person, and I ask you to excuse me,'' he wrote. ``The [news] cables talk about an operation. My compatriots were not pleased, because on more than one occasion I explained that the recovery was not exempt from risk. In general, they spoke about a day on which I would appear in public, wearing my usual olive-green uniform.

``Well, it was not just one operation but several. Initially, there was no success and that led to the prolonged recovery.''


In Wednesday night's missive, Castro said for the first time that he was fed by IV and catheters for ''many months'' but that he is back up to 176 pounds.

''For many months, I depended on intravenous lines and catheters through which I received an important part of my food, and I did not wish our people to experience unpleasant disappointments,'' he wrote. ``Today, I receive by mouth everything I need for my recovery. No danger is worse than those dangers related to one's age and health, which I abused during the hazardous times in which I lived.''

FIU releases survey of Cuban Americans

Florida International University released a new poll of Cuban Americans today. According to an article in the Miami Herald covering the survey, this is the eighth such poll in 16 years, and organizers have tried to ask questions consistent over time to get a clearer picture of how attitudes are evolving. From the poll's findings:

The survey showed 55.2 percent of those polled favor "unrestricted" travel to Cuba, though a majority of those registered to vote opposed the option, and support for the embargo was at the lowest level since the survey was launched in 1991.

The results also show a community divided in opinions on Havana depending on the year of arrival, skeptical that a quick change will happen on the island, and attitudes that seem contradictory: A narrow majority favors a U.S. invasion of Cuba, but a bigger majority supports a restoration of diplomatic ties between Havana and Washington.

The FIU poll reveals similar findings to a poll NDN conducted in October of 2006. You can view that here.

Romney slips big in FL

The Miami Herald tells us that Mitt Romney, in a speech to Cuban Americans in Miami, associated a statement often used by Fidel Castro with a free Cuba. The statement is Patria o muerte, venceremos! which means ''Fatherland or death, we shall overcome.''

For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.

Cuban oil a problem for the embargo?

The Miami Herald tells us that Cuba's recent discovery of oil could cause problems for the U.S. embargo. Oil, Cuba, and an embargo. This could get interesting...

The Bush Administration's Cuba Policy...or Lack Thereof

As we look ahead to the end of the Fidel Castro era, NDN continues to be a leading voice in the debate over the future of US-Cuban relations.  At the same time, the White House has been completely withdrawn at this critical time.  Who would have expected impotence and apparent indifference from the Bush Administration at a time when Fidel Castro's ill health has forced him to transfer power to his younger brother Raul. Even the top State Department Aide for Latin America admits that the administration has been sitting on its hands, waiting for an actionable moment:

"We don't feel that we've lost an important moment, because quite frankly, we don't see any significant possibility of change of any kind until Fidel is gone," Tom Shannon, the top State Department aide for Latin America, says...

But many observers say the post-Fidel era has begun _ with Raul Castro clearly in control.

This inaction is especially troubling at a time when there are bills in Congress, including one endorsed by NDN, to ease travel restrictions and increase contact between Cubans on the island and Cuban-Americans in the United States. 

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