“The Cuban-American community is somewhat divided over what should the United States be toward Cuba,” Florida Gulf Coast University professor Peter Bergerson said. “And so it’s been a divisive issue for 50 years, particularly in South Florida where there are a lot of Cuban-Americans and Cuban expatriates. And for some that is the overriding issue.”
NAPLES — The Cuban-American community is divided over what level of relations the U.S. should have with Cuba. National politicians likewise are split.
So it’s no surprise that Cuba has become an issue in the contentious race for Florida Congressional District 25 in Miami-Dade, Collier and Monroe counties.
And it’s no surprise the two frontrunners don’t agree when it comes to Cuba.
Florida Gulf Coast University professor Peter Bergerson said there are three good reasons Cuba is an issue.
“First because of the number of Cuban-Americans in South Florida, the proximity of Cuba second, and third the fact that voting is a very emotional issue,” said Bergerson, whose areas of expertise and research include the Second Amendment, ethics, War Powers Act and Congressional Elections. “That’s what really motivates people to go to the polls … emotion.”
“The Cuban-American community is somewhat divided over what should the United States be toward Cuba,” he said, adding that the Obama Administration is in dialogue with the Cuban government about possible changes to current policy. “And so it’s been a divisive issue for 50 years, particularly in South Florida where there are a lot of Cuban-Americans and Cuban expatriates. And for some that is the overriding issue.”
Bergerson said some Cuban expatriates think they are going to go back to their home land, while some Cuban-Americans who may have never actually been in the island nation hold on to the possibility of visiting their ancestral homes.
According to the U.S. State Department, relations between the United States and Cuba deteriorated rapidly after the 1959 revolution.
The U.S. currently doesn’t have formal diplomatic relations with the Caribbean nation and has maintained an embargo since 1960. In addition, after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, travel to the island has been restricted.
Created in 2002, District 25 covers the eastern part of Collier County, western Miami-Dade County and some of Monroe.
The seat is being vacated by GOP Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, who ran unopposed for his brother Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s District 21 seat. In February, Lincoln Diaz-Balart announced his intent to retire from office.
Joe Garcia and David Rivera will also face off against Whig Party candidate Craig Porter and Tea Party candidate Roly Arrojo on Nov. 2.
Those restrictions were tightened during President George W. Bush’s administration, which limited U.S. residents of Cuban descent or who were Cuban immigrants to one visit every three years.
In April 2009, President Obama announced the lifting of restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba, expanded the list of items eligible for humanitarian export to Cuba, and announced new regulations for U.S. telecommunications companies to expand the flow of information to Cuba.
That same year, the Cuban American National Foundation chimed in on what it thought the new administration should do in relation to Cuba. The nearly 30-year-old nonprofit recommended that Obama pursue a proactive U.S.-Cuba policy that increases support for the development of Cuban society, increases people-to-people exchanges, improves communication to advance freedom of information, and engage in targeted bilateral and multilateral diplomatic efforts.
When asked about their stance on travel by Cuban-American families to the island nation, and whether travel should be limited, the candidates disagreed.
“If somebody wants to see a brother and sister, a daughter or son, he should have a right. We have no reason to get government involved in people’s life,” Garcia said. “When a mother wants to see her son, she should be able to. That’s the policy that is in place right now. I think that it’s un-American and counterproductive to the United States, as well as to Cuba, to interfere with those relations. That’s what communist countries do, not what America does.”
“As a federal congressman, I would do everything possible to restrict those trips,” candidate David Rivera said.
“If somebody wants to see a brother and sister, a daughter or son, he should have a right. We have no reason to get government involved in people’s life,” candidate Joe Garcia said.
Rivera disagreed, saying he felt trips to Cuba need to be further restricted and regulated to protect consumers and avoid fraud, and that the number of trips to the island should be restored to the lower number established by the Bush administration.
“As a federal congressman, I would do everything possible to restrict those trips,” said Rivera, adding that Castro’s government has been making money off those trips since the Obama administration eased travel restrictions. “I don’t see a reason why people come to the U.S., fleeing political persecution in Cuba, and after a year and a day they are immediately expressing the desire to go back to that same tyranny — which they said they were fleeing from in the island, to come to the United States and seek political asylum.
“So I think there is a lot of abuse. I think we should limit-eliminate that abuse in those trips ... I don’t think there was any reason to give unilateral concessions,” Rivera said.
When asked why Cuba remains an issue in this campaign, Garcia and Rivera also had differing views.
“The topic of Cuba has been a very important issue, not only for decades, but especially at this moment with what’s happening with the tyranny of Castro. The developments and occurrences in Cuba are very important issues to some voters,” Rivera said. “That’s why you hear a lot about it in the press, from the candidates and from elected officials, because we are responding to interests and concerns of the voters.”
Rivera went on to dismiss the notion that Cuba has been used as a tool by politicians.
“Actually, reporters ask a lot about Cuba. It’s not necessarily candidates using Cuba as a tool. That’s an important issue. You keep asking me about it, obviously you understand it’s an important issue,” he said. “So if you are going to ask about it then you can’t criticize candidates for talking about it. It’s an important issue for voters.”
For his part, Garcia said the fact Cuba has been brought up in the race is typical Miami politics.
“While Cuba may be important, what is also important is that we focus in on things that help the people of the 25th (district),” he said. “It is tremendously important that what we are doing is focusing in on how to expand work, make sure that the economy grows, make sure schools work to make sure that businesses stay here and we can have a better life ... Very little of that has anything to do what with happens in Cuba.”
Nevertheless, Garcia said his position toward Cuba has always been to be tough and principled with the dictatorship.
“We need to do things that oppose the dictatorship, but help the Cuban people,” said Garcia, who supports the Obama administration’s approach to Cuba.
He added that the America needs to be forward thinking, and that the policy toward Cuba must not become the be-all end-all for of the U.S.’s Latin America policies.