Fabiola Santiago

Trump gives Cuba regime the gift of isolation – with help from his Miami friends | Opinion

There were the bad optics of announcing at a posh hotel, the Biltmore, an economic crackdown that will surely hurt poor Cuban people the most.

But the music was good.

In the background, before the speeches, a classical charanga from yesteryear played: todo el mundo con la lengua afuera, todo el mundo (every one stick your tongue out, everyone), a tune reinterpreted by Pitbull in a rap song, I should add for the new generations.

There were lots of bobble-headed politicians playing to the Republican Cuban crowd.

When people began applauding during the invocation, I thought they were moved by the priest on this, Holy Week, but it was Gov. Ron DeSantis walking into the room late. Sen. Rick Scott sent a video message and Sen. Marco Rubio gifted a flag that had flown over the Capitol.

There was all that – and more – during national security adviser John Bolton’s path through Miami this week to announce new Cuba policy measures, a crackdown on both the Cuban government and Obama-era engagement.

But what I can’t get out of my mind is U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s choice of words.

“President Trump is a formidable leader who has assembled a formidable team,” he said. Laughable, given the revolving door at the White House and the arrests and jail sentences of the president’s associates.

But that kind of guataquería, brown-nosing, is to be expected. A doorknob could be president.

And, there was the sound bite every journalist is quoting about having nothing to fear if you’re not trafficking in stolen property in Cuba, but hell to pay if you do.

The Republican congressman was referring to what’s being hailed as a major shift in U.S.-Cuba policy: Although both Democratic and Republican administrations have rejected opening this Pandora’s box, the United States will now allow American citizens to sue foreign companies operating on properties in Cuba that were confiscated from them by the Cuban regime after 1959.

“If you are not trafficking with the stolen property of Americans you have nothing to fear,” Diaz-Balart said. “But if you have been trafficking and benefiting from property stolen from Americans, it will cost you dearly.”

Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart is greeted by his brother Lincoln Diaz-Balart as his wife, Tia, left, also greets well-wishers during a victory party at the Flamingo Terrace at Hialeah Park in Hialeah. Diaz-Balart defeated Democrat Mary Barzee Flores on Nov. 6, 2018, to retain his District 25 seat. Jose A. Iglesias jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

It was a catchy way of framing the development – with that imperious Diaz-Balart tone that sometimes reminds me of Fidel Castro – and it pleased the audience of Republicans and Bay of Pigs Veterans Association members marking the 58th anniversary of the invasion.

Although Cuba’s leaders and diplomats are acting aggrieved, this kind of talk in the capital of exiles is music to the dictatorship’s ears.

It probably scared to death all the Cuban people who live in homes confiscated by the government from those who fled to exile decades ago and re-assigned to reward the faithful to the Revolution.

Put yourself in the shoes of ordinary Cubans.

Everything was stolen – large farmsteads and little fincas, palaces and walkups, shipyards and sugar mills, those vintage cars you see all over Havana, and even the dolls displayed on a sofa when the milicianos came and sealed your house before you left on a Freedom Flight.

Now Donald Trump says it’s okay to sue for losses – and his emissary is a Diaz-Balart, nephew of Fidel Castro’s first wife, Mirta, mother of his first son, Fidelito, who committed suicide last year. It makes Diaz-Balart an archrival of the regime with a complicated family relation.

Another of the coming measures, Bolton, said is that most American travel to the island will end.

National Security Advisor John Bolton joined the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association at a luncheon marking the 58th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. Bolton announced important steps being taken by the Trump administration to confront security threats related to Cuba, Venezuela and the crisis in Nicaragua on Wednesday, April, 17, 2019. Pedro Portal pportal@miamiherald.com

So, now you’re a Cuban on the island, with no Americans to chat up about news, and fearing that the home you live in will be taken from you. And you wonder why we don’t see massive opposition to the regime the way you do in Venezuela?

Cubans fear that they have a lot to lose with regime change and they’re scared of the rhetoric of the Diaz-Balarts of Miami.

Mario Diaz-Balart is out of touch with reality.

He also said that, without his now retired brother, Lincoln (who was in the audience), and congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Congress to oppose him, “the previous administration would have consolidated the regime in Havana.”

Let’s do the math.

Fidel Castro and his cohorts rose to power in 1959.

That’s sixty years ago.

The regime consolidated power w-a-a-a-y before Obama: the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, 90s, the millennium!

As for Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen’s impact on the Obama administration, it has been well documented that they were sidelined during the historic 2014 opening with Cuba. Don’t take my word for it. They both spent the Barack Obama years complaining about it.

There will be much to hear about the punitive U.S.-Cuba policy in the coming days if the Trump administration makes good on its declaration of waging an economic war to force Cuba to stop helping Venezuela and Nicaragua’s repressive regimes stay afloat.

Or, maybe not.

Maybe the speeches were just another round of political hot air for Cuban Miami’s benefit in light of the 2020 presidential elections.

Or maybe it’s both.

There’s no denying that the Cuban regime is a bad actor in the hemisphere and has a long history of repressing its people and violating basic human rights.

But President Trump’s gift to the Cuban government is a return to conflict and isolation from what was a modernizing force changing the island: American influence.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”