In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Stance on Cuba won’t help gubernatorial candidates in elections

I don’t care what Charlie Crist, the newly minted Democrat vying to return to the governorship of Florida, thinks about the five-decade-old U.S. embargo against Cuba.

Flip or flop, it matters not.

I don’t care either what Rick Scott, the Republican incumbent governor, thinks about what is essentially a foreign relations issue.

They both have bigger at-home topics to tackle to win voters who, frankly, will have to choose between the lesser of mediocre candidates.

Neither man is running for a congressional seat or the presidency — but to be the top administrator of and run the state of Florida. I want to see them duke it out on state issues that matter to all Floridians and not on how effectively they pull off emotional manipulation of a people oozing from the open wound of losing homeland and family.

Spare us the politiquería barata — cheap politicking, in any language — and seriously debate, take a stand on the tough stuff: the expansion of casino gambling; existing gun laws that allow criminals to beat murder raps; unfair and unsustainable home insurance rates; education that delivers less employment and costs more (four times more if you’re a Florida-educated immigrant child without the right papers).

Those are only a few of the issues that matter in a state growing at a rate of 3.7 percent annually, and predicted to soon surpass New York to become the nation’s third most-populous after California and Texas. While growth may be good for the state’s economy, it has tremendous quality of life implications for those of us who live here.

I want my governor focused on funding and managing the government services people will need, the road and transportation improvements necessary to accommodate more people and connect booming cities, and educational programs that keep our children engaged and prepare them for a competitive future.

Voters don’t need for the governor of Florida to play the role (and badly) of the foreign policy expert.

Neither Crist nor Scott is that, but it didn’t keep them from jumping on the Cuban embargo issue, thanks to the launch of the conversation by another non-expert, HBO talk show host Bill Maher.

Maher posed the question to Crist on his Real Time show Feb. 7, throwing in some generalized swipes at Miami’s Cuban community and making Ugly American comments about Cuba for laughs.

“I feel like this is something that has been held hostage by a small Cuban community in Florida for a very long time,” Maher said. “If we had done the right thing years ago, Cuba now would be St. Barts, and all the kids going on spring break would be there next month having a great time and drinking mai tais. But I don’t see a lot of politicians from Florida having the courage to stand up to that small Cuban community.”

Instead of calling out the stupidity (but how can you if you don’t recognize it), Crist answered with all seriousness: “Well, I think they need to. I think it’s the right thing. The embargo’s been going on what, 50 years now, and I don’t think it worked. It is obvious to me we need to move forward and I think get the embargo taken away. From a selfish point of view, as a Floridian, I’d like to see that happen because a lot of construction would be required on the island, and South Florida could be the launching pad for all of that and really create a lot of jobs for the people of my state.”

Really, how?

Is Cuba, under the able eye of Crist, going to become a province of the country of Florida so that the next governor/president can handle construction contracts? And, do you think the ambitious Florida developers in the new Florida-ruled Cuba are going to pay union wages to Floridians or hire islanders for whom $20 is an entire month’s salary?

That would’ve been enough said, except that what followed Crist’s bad trip was a predictable party-loyalist soap opera from the Republican camp.

Scott and his running mate, Cuban-American Carlos Lopez-Cantera, jumped right in to support the embargo.

Bad move, especially numbers-wise, as one poll after another concludes that Cuban Americans as well as other Floridians are less likely to have that position these days.

On top of that, it was a defense poorly executed, as the clueless Scott and Lopez-Cantera (who is having trouble remembering his legislative record) couldn’t quite verbalize embargo issues well enough to convince a town of “experts” on the matter, much less your average Florida voter. And some of the commentary on social media from Republican leaders about the brouhaha was not only infantile rhetoric, but a throwback to a time when it was acceptable to use the worthy cause of Cuba’s freedom to gain votes in local and state elections.

No, Crist’s and Scott’s stance on the Cuban embargo will not be a hot topic in the Florida governor’s race, not even if PolitiFact says so.

Gaining political points by talking tough on Castro went out of fashion at least a decade ago. Remember Mitt Romney, who couldn’t stir a Cuban bone in Miami except for that of the party stalwarts, who’ll applaud whoever is Republican and vote Republican — period.

And what embargo are they all talking about, anyway?

There’s a marked truck parked outside BrandsMart specifically slated to take shipments to the freight forwarding firms that send goods to Cuba from Miami everyday.

Cubans in Florida have been doing business with the island since family reunification flights opened in 1979 — and these days, they send every imaginable good that the Castro regime allows, from Barbie dolls to flat-screens TVs.

As for Americans like Maher who say they’re so dying to go to Cuba and think we in Miami are keeping them from it, update your playbook: Plenty of travel providers book trips to Cuba as readily as if it were an excursion to Machu Picchu. They offer all sorts of packages from weekend to two-week trips. Pick your flavor: classic Cuba, off the beaten path, jazz-themed, art-themed, youth-oriented, etc. Yes, the kids not only spend their spring break there, but summers and Christmas vacations as well.

It’s all U.S. government approved — and the only one who turns you away is the Cuban government if they don’t approve of who you are or what you do for a living.

And Mr. Maher, that drink you need more than you know, is a mojito. A mai tai is a Tahitian-themed, California creation.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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