by Matthew Stieglitz
It has become a time-honored tradition. Every four years candidates go and vie for the blessing of the most well-represented Latin demographic at the polls, talking about the only issue Cuban-Americans seem to care about. I still find it as fascinating as I do pathetically humorous that candidates make the pilgrimage to South Florida to do the same thing: kiss the Don’s ring. Seriously, who didn’t ask themselves “which of these doesn’t belong” amidst pictures of Newt Gingrich drinking Café Cubano during his visit to see the Don? As soon as those pictures hit the airwaves, I couldn’t help but let out a chuckle. As I laughed I also remembered the timeless phrase, “no matter how much things change they stay the same.”
Perhaps that phrase is inappropriate, since US-Cuba policy has never exactly been a beacon of progressivism, change, or hope. It has been a failure, almost like a student held back not five, not six, not seven, but fifty times (you can’t ask me to slam the Don without taking a shot at LeBron). While reflecting on this failure, I can’t remember any candidate in recent memory advocating a policy stance of ending the embargo, or at the very least identifying that as something to take steps towards. At best, there have been talks of extended travel and increased remittances to the island – better known as Obama impersonating Saul Alinsky. While that notion is great media fodder and freaks out the right, who has no idea how moderate Obama really is, it’s really nothing for Cuba isolationists to fret over. Their beloved embargo isn’t going anywhere, no matter how many times Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen scare their donors into thinking otherwise.
At this point, we really are left wondering why candidates from the right and left even bother to dance the ‘Calle Ocho Waltz.’ Sure, stops along the campaign trail are par for the course in any district, especially for those competing for their party’s nomination for President. But has the ‘Calle Ocho Waltz’ really become what used to be candidates telling unions why they’re the right guy for the job? If so, it’s high time that campaign stops in South Florida stop focusing on US-Cuba policy. At least US-Cuba policy as we know it.
For years, there has been nothing but outright Cuba-fatigue, especially on the Hill. It’s a rivalry that, inexplicably, has lasted half a century while this country has learned to break bread with a laundry list of former foes. While many would argue inroads with the former Soviet Union, China, and Iraq were the result of governmental change or progressive reform, I would counter that Cuba is in the midst of a similar transformation. Homes can now legally be sold, business licenses have been expanded, and each passing day represents fewer ahead than there are behind until the chapter entitled Fidel officially ends. Thus, it would stand to reason that many must be thinking ‘what is left keeping two countries that sit only ninety miles apart from sitting at a table and talking?’
Is it Alan Gross, the American “subcontractor” who has been imprisoned for almost two years for bringing telecommunications equipment to Jews on the island? Is it the Cuban Five, who have served the majority of their respective prison sentences for espionage against the United States? Is it the shadow of Fidel, officially no longer the island’s leader but still playing the role of Gepetto? Is it Cuba’s porous human rights record? Their lack of free speech? Hell, is it the fact that the New York Yankees now get outbid for defecting pitchers? Perhaps it’s a combination of all the above, or maybe it’s just the ‘Calle Ocho Waltz’ itself. No matter what the answer is, it’s arguably irrelevant. Quite simply, people are tired of this debate, and not even my jokes and cheap shots can inject life into it.
Change between both of our nations will not take place sans an exchange of ideas and culture. To pretend both countries have nothing in common is the type of ignorance that has perpetuated both this embargo and the gap between every major divided demographic throughout time. While I don’t mean to say that Americans share the political persuasion of even the most devout Cuban communists, I do think we can find common ground in other areas. And for all I know, that common ground might come in Cuba’s recent forays into oil drilling, which Venezuela parlayed into Chavez avoiding the Fidel-treatment.
Maybe like Nixon and China, only Obama can go to Cuba, or maybe not. Maybe instead of Café Cubano it will be Café Petróleo that gets us talking. Either way, the ‘Calle Ocho Waltz’ is the greatest barrier to change. While I’m all for spreading Cuban culture and have had Café Cubano infused into my diet since the age of four, I really don’t want to keep hearing about the latest candidate going down to beat the drums of isolationism. And this is coming from someone who yearns for Washington’s ‘no entangling alliances’ mantra when it comes to being the world’s policeman. Nope, I’d rather we stop the waltz and switch it to a ‘Calle Ocho Zumba.’ Now there’s a dance presidential candidates wouldn’t be so good at.