Fabiola Santiago

If you see Russian warships in Havana as backdrop, you’re in the right city, Democrats

Julián Castro speaks at first media availability before Miami debate

Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro had his first media availability at the Courtyard Marriott in Miami, Florida, on June 23, 2019. Castro spoke about immigration, his need to increase popularity, and the importance of Latino voters.
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Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro had his first media availability at the Courtyard Marriott in Miami, Florida, on June 23, 2019. Castro spoke about immigration, his need to increase popularity, and the importance of Latino voters.

“In a global economy powered by ideas and information, a country’s greatest asset is its people. In the United States, we have a clear monument to what the Cuban people can build — it’s called Miami.” – President Barack Obama, Havana, March 22, 2016.

Welcome to Miami, post-Obama Democratic hopefuls.

Before you take your place at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, look south.

You couldn’t ask for a timelier backdrop to the Democratic presidential debates than the Russian warships docked in Havana — in lieu of the U.S. cruise ships packed with Americans eager to connect with Cubans.

From there, the Russians are scheduled to sail to Venezuela to prop up the faltering Nicolás Maduro regime. An advanced warship is armed with cruise missiles.

AME6136. LA HABANA (CUBA), 24/06/2019.- Varias personas observan la entrada de una agrupación de buques de la Marina de Guerra de Rusia este lunes, al puerto de La Habana (Cuba). Durante la visita, los marinos rusos cumplirán un programa de actividades que incluye una visita de cortesía al Jefe de la Marina de Guerra Revolucionaria (MGR) de la isla, el contraalmirante Carlos Duque, y recorridos por lugares de interés histórico y cultural. La visita de los buques rusos a la isla caribeña tiene lugar en un momento en el que la relación bilateral entre Cuba y Rusia muestra un nuevo impulso. EFE/ Ernesto Mastrascusa Ernesto Mastrascusa EFE

The Russian intervention is a two-for-one punch to President Donald Trump’s misguided isolationist Cuba policy and his failure to force regime change in Venezuela — and a one-way ticket to a second rendition of the Cold War.

For you, the 20 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, this represents an opportunity to put forward another vision of hemispheric relations right here, where it matters most, the Gateway to the Americas.

What happens in these countries is not just a matter of foreign policy or national security in South Florida. They are local issues that evoke passions, affect voting patterns — and decide elections.

This explains, for example, why Miami-Dade is a Democratic county led mostly by Republicans.

Geography matters on this end of the peninsula — and winning in 2020 is all about managing margins in purple Florida.

Miami is the perfect petri dish of voter groups that swing elections: Hispanic, black, millennial, LGBTQ. Beyond identity politics, Miamians care about immigration, education, climate change, healthcare, affordable housing and income disparity.

But we also care deeply about Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, and Central America — and you can’t underestimate that, whether you land on the presidential ticket or serve the next administration in another capacity.

Know us. Address us.

Don’t just wing it as if you were in Anywhere, USA.

We are, as the writer T.D. Allman dubbed Miami decades ago, the City of the Future.

The foreign feel and sounds are an asset here. Yet they don’t take away one sliver of our patriotism, as so many Americans north of the county line wrongly assume.

Just drive down Palm Avenue in Hialeah or walk a nook of canopied Miami Lakes where U.S. flags are hoisted on trees year-round.

The multi-layers of heritage, language, and culture mean that we’re America’s bridge-builders and translators. You need us now, and more so, into the future.

Yet, under Trump, we’ve taken steps backward, almost have lost who we are in Miami.

To our regret, we’re not only ground zero for accelerating climate change — a fact this administration ignored when it rolled back key Obama rules on carbon emissions — but also for the shameful Trump policy of long-term child incarceration.

We’re heartbroken. We feel impotent. We’re hoping that the next president will shut the children’s detention center down.

Do heed Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s call to visit the misnamed Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, where some 3,000 children are spending months in custody in a cold, military-styled regimen.

They won’t let you in. This privately run prison for children fleeing violence and dire poverty, the largest in the country, operates in the shadows about 30 miles from Miami, far from public view.

But just being there helps keep the children’s plight in the public’s eye.

How did Miami, quintessential city of refuge, allow this to happen?

Let me simplify: Cubans are party loyalists, whether it’s here or in Cuba, and they are reliable voters in every election. In 2016, they were expecting to elect hometown Republican Jeb Bush president. When he didn’t win the nomination, they jumped on the winner’s bandwagon.

They were rewarded with an end to rapprochement, the Cuba crackdown, the attempt to rid Venezuela of Maduro, and most recently, the right to sue over properties confiscated by the Cuban government.

This could spell trouble for the Democrats.

A new Mason-Dixon poll concluded that 59% of Cuban Americans approve of Trump. But the sample was small and the margin of error is higher than 5%, which brings the number of Trump fans closer to the vote in 2016.

With those Russian warships 90 miles from Key West, who knows?

Look south for lessons, Democrats.

You’re in the right city.

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.”