Exile leaders say it’s a snake-oil promise from the regime.
“If it’s a hoax, they’re going to waste millions of dollars in the United States,” Garcia said. “If it works, it could help prevent up to 70,000 amputations a year.”
The effort is being spearheaded by former Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt, a friend of Garcia’s.
“He let his friend Delahunt walk him down the plank,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, who runs the anti-regime U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which opposed Garcia in 2012 but has since made peace.
“There’s no doubt I’m upset with him over this,” Claver-Carone said. “Joe didn’t do his due diligence, and he’s being used.”
Claver-Carone, however, said that Garcia overall has still been solid on anti-regime stances and said he understood the congressman’s desire to strike a “balance” with regards to the diplomats. Meantime, Peñalver said he understood Garcia’s involvement with the diabetes issue but was disappointed Garcia didn’t sign the letter opposing the diplomats’ visit.
Both Claver-Carone and Peñalver say South Florida opposition to the Cuban regime remains strong. The regime still represses, but it’s launching a full-scare public-relations campaign to appear more tolerant, they say.
A change in attitudes has been notable: President Obama came close to winning the once-reliably Republican Cuban-American vote. In 2012, Obama carried five of nine Republican state House seats in Miami-Dade that identified with Cuban-Americans, many of whom appreciate Obama’s loosening of Cuba travel and remittance policies. More Cuban Americans are traveling to the island — often multiple times — to see relatives in annual visits that could reach a number as high as 500,000.
Yaniz, who graduated from Miami’s Jackson Senior High School in 1968 before moving to Key West, said he saw a stark sign of change two years ago during a visit to Versailles Restaurant: A patron wearing a red T-shirt that depicted Castro revolutionary Che Guevara.
“No one said a thing,” Yaniz said. “In my day, growing up in Miami, he would have been killed.”
And no Miami congressman, he said, would have dared to espouse anything but the hardest of lines on Cuba years ago.
Garcia, though, said he would have acted the same way: “This isn’t about politics.”
Have the politics changed?
Garcia wouldn’t answer.