In this unique, black swan, unicorn, once-in-a-life time election, the question of U.S.-Cuba policy stands out.
Fourteen presidential elections have taken place in this country since the Cuban revolution. This is the first campaign in which both major party candidates favor lifting sanctions on Cuba.
As the Council on Foreign Relations reports in its side-by-side comparison of the candidates’ stands on the major issues of the day –
“The former secretary of state embraces the normalization of ties with Cuba and in July 2015 called for lifting the economic embargo.”
“In a break with much of his party, Donald Trump says he supports diplomacy with Cuba. ‘The concept of opening with Cuba is fine,’ he said in September 2015, adding, ‘but we should have made a better deal.’”
So, this is great news for pro-Cuba policy reformers, right? If they both agree on getting rid of the embargo, and one of them is elected, he or she will have the wind of a democratic election at their back to complete the normalization process pushed forward so skillfully by President Obama. Isn’t that right?
We’d certainly think so. But, if past is prologue, this seemingly straightforward truth for us may be one subject to interpretation by others. Lest there be surprises later, please stay with us and consider the following.
First, Florida has reemerged as a “tipping point” state. As defined by the election analyst Nate Silver, this means, “if you line up the states in order of their two-party vote margin,” Florida will be the one that “pushes the winning candidate over the Electoral College threshold.” The Upshot, a New York Times political site, says Florida has a 17 percent chance of providing the deciding vote in the 2016 presidential election.
Florida could decide this election? Is that important (for lifting the embargo and stuff)? The Council on Foreign Relations certainly thinks so. “An estimated 1.2 million of 1.6 million Cuban-Americans live in Florida and represent an important voting bloc with outsized influence on U.S. Cuba policy.”
Holy hanging chad! Understanding that we’re in the dog days of August, and we’re roughly 96 days from Election Day, and the whatever-animal days of November, and we can’t predict what will happen tomorrow, what do we know about what’s happening in Florida now?
That brings us to our second point: The vote in Florida looks kind of close.
According to Real Clear Politics, the average of the last three polls indicates that it is: Clinton 44.7 percent and Trump 42 percent.
Our third point is this: The race could be a lot closer, but for indications that candidate Trump has what Univision calls “a big Hispanic problem in Florida.”
According to Univision’s latest survey, Mr. Trump is enjoying the support of only 12.9 percent of Florida’s Hispanic voters. This compares to the 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in Florida that went to Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney, both of whom lost Florida, in the prior two presidential elections.
The most recent Florida state poll, the Suffolk University poll, shows Sec. Clinton leading Mr. Trump in the Sunshine State, 48 percent to 42 percent – with her lead credited to women and voters in southern Florida.
This is interesting because, as Pew reports, “The majority of Hispanic Republican registered voters are located in South Florida,” and Cuban Americans are the backbone of the Republican Party in that region.
That’s interesting, too, as Politico reported last year, because “Florida’s Cuban-American vote, once strongly Republican, appears more up for grabs than ever…Once strongly opposed to lifting the embargo, Cuban-Americans increasingly favor lifting it and normalizing relations.”
Now, let’s take a time-out to take stock. We’ve said Trump and Clinton have the same position on Cuba. The election could be decided by Florida. In Florida, while the race looks close, Sec. Clinton is drawing historic numbers of Hispanic voters, and is receiving significant support from South Florida where Cuban-American voters wield the greatest influence. And, by the way, this very demographic is increasingly favoring the Obama policy on Cuba.
So, what happens next?
Mark our words, no matter the result, there will be an effort to control the narrative and interpret the election as a vote for stopping progress on Cuba policy reform in its tracks. Despite the fact that both nominees are anti-embargo, despite the fact that President Obama – who won Florida twice – openly campaigned on a platform for Cuba policy reform, analysts repeatedly argue that because “all five Cuban-American congressmen and three senators are all opposed to lifting the embargo.” In essence, their votes and voices should matter above ours, above all others.
Or, as Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, told Politico: “I’d remind Secretary Clinton (or he could have said Mr. Trump)…No one has ever won a statewide election in Florida on a platform that opposes the embargo, including Obama in 2008 and 2012.”
This year looks like an exception. This year, the majority will rule.
The week, in Cuba news…
Cuba’s Foreign Relations
Two French firms, Bouygues and Aeroports de Paris SA, have been awarded contracts for the expansion and operation, respectively, of both the José Martí International Airport in Havana and the San Antonio de los Baños Airport in Artemisa, according to CubaDebate, a government-run website. Cuba’s Ministry of Transportation announced the decision in a press conference on Wednesday. Cuba’s government will continue to run customs, immigration, and security in both airports. As Reuters reported this spring, Cuba decided to modernize the airports in part to accommodate the rapid increase in tourism to the island, and to prepare for the arrival of U.S. commercial airline service this fall.
Tourism in Cuba is on the rise. Manuel Marrero, Cuba’s Minister of Tourism, reported that visits to Cuba were up 12 percent so far this year compared to the same period last year; Mr. Marrero is projecting a total 3.8 million visitors by the end of the year, topping last year’s 3.5 million, according to the Associated Press. Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Foreign Minister for North American Affairs, added that Cuba has received 138,000 U.S. visitors thus far in 2016, marking an 80 percent increase over the same period last year. Mr. Marrero said Cuba hopes to receive 4 million visitors in 2017.
With Venezuela cutting back on the supplies of oil it sends to Cuba in exchange for Cuban doctors providing medical care, the growth in tourism revenue could partially offset the impacts already being felt on Cuba’s economy.
Cuba’s lung cancer vaccine could receive go-ahead for US clinical trials this year, Samantha Bresnahan, CNN
CIMAvax, a new lung cancer immunotherapy drug developed by researchers at Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM), could start clinical trials later this year. If approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the trials will be run in partnership with the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, later this year. The Center for Democracy in the Americas helped plan and participated in a trade mission in 2015, led by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, during which the New York-based cancer institute finalized its arrangement with Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology to work on gaining regulatory approval for trials and later marketing the vaccine in the U.S.
Japan and several European countries will begin trials for the vaccine, which inhibits tumor growth in lung cancer patients. In one small trial, patients younger than 60 who received CIMAvax lived an average 11 months longer than those who did not.
Cuba says talks with U.S. over claims cannot be rushed, Sarah Marsh, Reuters
As we reported last week, diplomats from the U.S. and Cuba concluded their second round of talks on outstanding certified claims July 28 in Washington with a pledge to continue discussions. Abelardo Moreno, Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister, said in a press conference Monday that while the claims process was progressing, it is too complex to expedite: “We have to follow the appropriate timetable. We cannot force it.”
Cuban officials toured St. Petersburg, eyeing consulate location, Paul Guzzo, Tampa Bay Times
Cuban diplomats toured St. Petersburg, Florida, examining sites for locating a potential consulate in the city. Cuba has not had a consulate in the U.S. since 1961, and is now looking to open one, likely in South Florida. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has recently visited Cuba twice. Nearby, some elected officials in Tampa are at odds with that city’s Mayor, Bob Buckhorn, who has objected to closer U.S.-Cuba relations on human rights grounds, as the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Cuba, Florida to team up for reef research, Jeff Patterson, WFLA
Cuban marine biologists will visit Florida’s Aquarium Center for Conservation later this month to begin a joint research project to explore methods to repopulate corals in the Florida Keys Reefs. The research will assess the health and genetic viability of the corals, and investigators will develop drug treatments for coral diseases. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL-14) visited the aquarium this week to discuss the coming collaboration and how it fits into broader U.S.-Cuba and South Florida-Cuba cooperation efforts.
Separately, the Tampa Bay Times reported that for the first time since 1959, the St. Petersburg Yacht Club will hold its annual regatta to Havana in February. The race may include an element of U.S.-Cuba environmental cooperation, as a team of U.S. and Cuban marine science students hope to participate in the event as part of a university-to-university exchange and project on marine life in the Florida Straits.
Cuba’s Ministry of Health reported Wednesday that two residents of the city of Holguín contracted Zika within the country; according to public health officials, Cuba had previously seen just one locally contracted case of the virus. Neither patient had traveled outside the country. Cuba continues Zika prevention efforts, including routine fumigations in neighborhoods with significant amounts of standing water, and health checkpoints around the island and in airports for travelers coming from countries hardest hit by the virus. As of early last month, health officials reported 20 imported cases and 14 locally transmitted cases on the island.
Cuban dissident becomes weak from hunger strike; church may step in, Nora Gámez Torres, In Cuba Today
Guillermo Fariñas, a Cuban dissident, along with about 20 other dissidents, has been on a hunger strike for the last two weeks; representatives from Cuba’s Catholic Church have expressed their willingness to act as mediators between Fariñas and the government. Fariñas, who lives in Santa Clara and was hospitalized last week, met with local Church officials and members of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba, as well as an “envoy of Pope Francis,” according to In Cuba Today. A State Department spokesperson said that the department is “monitoring [the hunger strikers’] situation closely. …We have raised our concerns directly with the Cuban Government both in Washington and Havana.”
Where Hip Hop Fits in Cuba’s Anti-Racist Curriculum, Erik Gleibermann, The Atlantic
Erik Gleibermann examines Cuban rap duo Obsesión’s efforts to teach racial justice through Cuba’s primary education system. Community artists and activists are collaborating with the Ministry of Education to include discussions of Afro-Cuban history as well as race- and gender-based tensions into school curriculum. Obsesión, whose songs often feature lyrics opposing racism and institutional discrimination, works extensively in public schools, organizing projects like workshops in fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms to explore prejudice through fables. Alexey Rodríguez Mola of Obsesión explains their goal: “we don’t impose these ideas on the students,” Rodríguez said. “We want to help them ask questions about prejudice.”