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Cuba

05/24/02 12:00AM By Olin Robison
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Let's talk about Cuba¿again. The president was in Miami a few days ago pledging to be tough on Cuba and not to eliminate the four-decades-old embargo on trade and travel with America's tropical neighbor 90 miles to the south of where he was speaking. His Cuban-American audience loved it.

There had already been press coverage aplenty from Cuba as former President and Mrs. Carter made what was billed as a "private" visit to Cuba. President Carter was received generously by Fidel Castro, and Mr. Carter addressed the Cuban nation¿in Spanish, no less¿on television.

The two speeches, only days apart, one from Havana and one from Miami, could hardly have been more different. Mr. Carter chided the Cuban president but nonetheless called for a relaxation of the tensions between the U.S. and Cuba. Mr. Bush, on the other hand, made a speech clearly aimed at garnering support from the sizeable Cuban-American population of South Florida. It was a speech that could well have been given 10, or 20, or even 30 years ago.

The Bush White House had feigned great concern and indignation over Jimmy Carter's trip to Cuba, and various administration officials opined to portray the former president as a well-intentioned but na¿ve busybody. All of their tut-tutting seemed a bit contrived. I suspect that the current president's political advisors¿Karl Rove and company¿were in fact pretty happy to have the Carter trip as a foil, a political counter-point, if you will. It was the perfect set-up for President Bush to go down to Little Havana in Miami and show that, unlike the liberal, wishy-washy Carter, that he, George W. Bush is a tough guy who knows how to handle the likes of Castro.

The Bush trip to Miami wasn't really about Cuba, of course. It was about Florida's 25 electoral votes in the next presidential election. And, if the president's brother Jeb Bush, the current governor of Florida, can get re-elected along the way, then all the better.

Rarely have so few people had such a hold on the U.S. presidential electoral system. But that is now the case where the Cuban-American community in Florida is concerned. It is a commonplace that, in the next presidential election, California is likely to go Democratic, Texas will go Republican, and Florida, once again, may well be determinative, and the Cuban-American vote may well decide who wins. Meanwhile, back in Washington, it would appear that a majority sentiment on Capitol Hill is now moving toward a more accommodating stance on Cuba.

I have long thought that the overriding problem concerning Cuba is that it is both too close and too small. If Cuba were a couple of thousand miles away, we would have moved toward normal relations years ago. But it is too close; on a clear day you can almost see it from Miami. It is also, of course, too small. If you don't find that argument convincing, look at China, which is hardly a model of Jeffersonian democracy.

And so this ritual dances goes on¿yet again. But stay tuned. This isn't going to go on forever. It is an anachronism both in foreign policy and in domestic politics. Maybe after the 2004 elections¿or 2008¿or when Castro dies it will change. You can count on it.

This is Olin Robison.

Olin Robison is president of the Salzburg Seminar, located in Middlebury, Vermont and Salzburg, Austria.
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