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Cuba's Future: An Interview with Julia Sweig

A top policy analyst in Washington talks about Cuba today, a post-Fidel Castro regime, key players on the U.S. side and new ideas for changes in America's approach toward its island neighbor
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Cuba, May/June 2007

(continued from page 4)

Sen. Richard Lugar [R-IN), a Republican, has carried the anti-sanction flag strongly throughout the 1990s. He has been and continues to be somebody who is a voice of moderation within the Republican Party.

Then, you have the Cuban-American representatives in the House: Lincoln Diaz-Balart [R-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R-FL] and [until recently] Bob Menendez [D-NJ]. Menendez is now in the Senate, and you have Albio Sires [D-NJ], who took his seat in the House. But the Lincoln-Ileana axis, the hard-liners, has been very, very important with both a Republican and Democratic White House. Now we also have Mario Diaz [R-FL], Lincoln's little brother, who is also in the Congress.

There's Charles Rangel [D-NY], in the Congressional Black Caucus, which has had a traditionally more open view toward Cuba for a variety of reasons. Rangel epitomizes that attitude.

Because of the anti-sanction drumbeat in the 1990s, and because the Cold War ended, a bunch of new domestic constituencies got involved in the debate on Cuba. In the agricultural field, most especially, you saw the first anti-sanction agricultural bill sponsored by [then] Sen. John Ashcroft [R-MO]. That was surely not an ideological gesture on his part; it was for campaign finances from his constituents.

You had people like Norm Coleman [R-MN) when he came into the Senate after Paul Wellstone died. Coleman, when he was mayor of St. Paul, was participating in delegations to Cuba because he had constituents in Minnesota who were interested in the country.

What essentially happened was the Clinton administration used the loopholes in the Cuban Democracy Act [editor's note: a bill introduced by then-Rep. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) in 1992 that prohibited any foreign-based subsidiary of a U.S. company from doing business with Cuba] to begin to drive a bottom-up process where you would get different constituents interested in Cuba that would have the effect of neutralizing, in theory, the Cuban-American hard line within and outside the Congress. And it was successful.

By the end of the 1990s, you had 200,000 Americans going to Cuba a year. Every other second there was an ad for an international trade show. Cigar Aficionado did its interview with Fidel. The message from the Cubans was, "Damn, we may be well interested in opening for business." It was tentative, but they were playing footsies with us right back.

In the Congress, Coleman comes in but changes hats because he has to get in line with Karl Rove's White House.

Then you have Mel Martinez. He's an Orlando councilman in real estate development from Orlando, Florida. When Elián González [the Cuban boy who fled Cuba but then sparked a custodial fight involving his father in Cuba] went to Disney World, that was Martinez's entry into national politics. He became secretary of [Housing and Urban Development] and then a senator, handpicked by Karl Rove. It was very much about domestic politics and his role in that whole Elián González episode. Martinez, now also the chair of the Republican National Committee, may be among those Republican Cuban Americans close to the White House who might support restoring Cuban-American family travel, and not much else.

CA: Isn't that a fairly big shift in itself?

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