During the summer, I had the pleasure of working on former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez’s U.S. Senate campaign in my hometown of Miami. His story is that of my family’s and many other Cuban exiles, who fled their country in search of liberty and freedom. If elected, Mel would be the first Cuban-American Senator. While working for his campaign, I had the opportunity to interact with many in my community. It was impressive to witness the enthusiasm that Mel’s candidacy and President Bush’s re-election efforts have generated at the grass roots level. Like most Cuban-Americans, I am particularly concerned with U.S. policy toward Cuba and Senator Kerry’s positions on the issue. While I have not always been happy with President Bush’s handling of Cuba, I refuse to lose the forest for the trees.
In Miami, Senator Kerry’s campaign is marked by his rampant flip-flopping, his desire to be all things to everyone. He has voted against legislation that is of great importance to the Cuban-American community; yet, he claims to have voted with us. My guess is that this was before he voted against us. The most flagrant of his flip-flops was on a piece of legislation signed into law in 1996, the Helms-Burton Act. In an interview, Senator Kerry stated, “I voted for the Helms-Burton legislation to be tough on companies that deal with [Castro]” (“Kerry’s Stances on Cuba Open to Attack,” Miami Herald 3/14). In reality, Kerry voted against this widely supported legislation in its final stage. No politician should be able to get away with “voto si, voto no,” but I guess these are things you say when you play into the “politics of Florida.”
The current travel regulations on Cuba, put in place by President Bush, are part of a two-pronged approach aimed at weakening the regime, aimed reducing the flow of funds to Castro’s regime and taking the regime’s existing funds away. These regulations have a wide base of support in the Cuban exile community and work within the established framework to combat the Cuban regime. The new policy of travel restrictions takes advantage of trade regulation signed into law by President Clinton (not Bush as some have suggested). The trade regulations arose from an effort in 2000, when a substantial coalition of liberal Democrats and farm-state Republicans moved to ease the trade embargo. These efforts, however, were defeated by the Cuban-American delegation and the Republican leadership, which inserted a provision in the bill that prohibits Castro’s regime from acquiring taxpayer funded loans from our government to finance its purchases of agricultural and medical products. There are two benefits derived from this provision. First, by ensuring that Castro’s regime must pay up-front, the American taxpayer’s money will not be lost in one of the world’s riskiest economies. Furthermore, by requiring cash purchases, the regime must divert funds from its repressive apparatus.
The regulations put in place by President Bush are aimed at reducing the flow of capital to Cuba. By reducing the flow of tourists, whose spending comprises 40 percent of the Cuban economy, we are effectively depriving Fidel Castro of the means through which he can oppress the Cuban people. If the prohibitions on tourism were to be repealed, the regime would be greatly benefited, since the money coming in would flow into their hands. This follows from the fact that the vast majority of businesses in Cuba are either owned or have a partnership with the state. Further, lifting the travel embargo would only lead to greater exploitation of the Cuban people. A regime that has been accused of promoting the prostitution of 13-and 14-year-old girls cannot be expected to protect its citizens. In Cuba, there are only two classes the haves: the communists, and the have nots: the rest of the populace. The eradication of the travel embargo would only help to improve the lots of communists.
Having a great deal of family in Cuba I can say that it has been Castro, not the embargo that has kept us apart. For many in my community the suffering they have endure put this issue above partisanship and Mel Martinez is someone who shares our experience. On Nov. 2 , for my family, my community and myself, I will vote for President Bush and Secretary Martinez.
Michael Fernandez is a sophomore in Davenport College.