For two decades, Reps. Diaz-Balart and Curbelo have prioritized punishing the Cuban people as a means to their end. On Tuesday, that can change.
This year, once again, the outcome of the election in Florida will indicate the direction of the United States. This year, like past elections, Cuban-Americans have taken center stage, claiming the power to determine the fate of Miami-Dade and shape the outcome on a state level. And this year, as usual, Republican hardliners are using political theatrics to mobilize Cuban-Americans to head to the polls. Just last week, National Security Advisor John Bolton announced the administration’s additional softball sanctions on Cuba, and the White House opened the door for Cuban-Americans to sue foreign companies for property confiscated by the Cuban government. And this year, like all election years, the families of the Cuban diaspora will be on the ballot.
This year is different, though. The political environment has changed drastically from the years when right-wing exiles controlled the Cuban-American vote and ruled Florida politics. Today, a majority of Americans, Cuban-Americans, and Cubans support engagement between the two countries. A majority of people in Miami-Dade county even supports engagement.
Tuesday’s election is critical for Cuban families. Trump’s Cuba policy was created and refined by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the nephew of Fidel Castro who has been one of his most ardent opponents, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, and Senator Marco Rubio. Their post-Obama policy has separated and estranged Cuban families by halting US visa applications in Havana and effectively ending the Family Reunification Program. They’ve closed the consular section of the US Embassy in Havana, allowed the US to shirk its sworn promise to issue 20,000 Cuban visas in 2018, and ratcheted up sanctions — actions which no country, state, or county supports.
These actions line up with previous hardliner policy. Diaz-Balart was an architect of President Bush’s Cuba policy, limiting Cuban-American visits to Cuba to only once every three years and lowering the amount of remittances they could send to their families on the island. Cuban-American veteran Carlos Lazo pleaded to Congress in 2005 to let him visit his sons in Cuba after his tour in Iraq, to no avail.
What has changed is the community they claim to represent. Cuban-Americans’ priorities have changed — and they are no longer guaranteed votes for an increasingly anti-immigrant and anti-democratic Republican party. Cuban-Americans want to visit aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins and grandparents in Cuba.
Instead, this year, Curbelo and Diaz-Balart are opposed by Democratic women who support engagement, an open consular service in Havana, and the reunification of Cuban families. Mary Barzee Flores and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell recognize that representatives need to actually represent their constituents. Instead of tightening the screws of an ineffective policy which no community supports in 2018, they understand the importance of investigating the attacks at the US embassy in Havana so that our diplomats can begin serving the Cuban people once again.
Attitudes have changed, and so should policies. On Tuesday, Cuban-Americans will say that they won’t be taken for granted by hardline politicians who show up in Miami-Dade a week before Election Day. They will say their families won’t be put through hell to further the futile ambitions of Miami politicians. On Tuesday, Cuban families are on the ballot and in the voting booth — and I think they’ll be heard loud and clear.