It’s time for Cuban Americans in Congress to stop playing into Castros’ hands


Emotional politics can align the strangest of bedfellows.

Case in point: The continuing U.S.-Cuba story going back decade upon decade.

Only recently, and for the first time, groups interested in effecting change in Cuba, convened in Washington, D.C., with a simple, two-part goal: (1) Let our elected representatives hear the broader Cuban-exile story, and (2) propose new paths, not just the ones we’ve heard for years from South Florida politicians.

Those visits were well received, in most cases. Senate and House members embraced our efforts for support to pass two pieces of legislation. The first is focused on lifting the travel ban to Cuba. (This is not a Cuban issue; rather it is an American rights issue. Cuba is the only country in the world to which U.S. citizens can’t travel without prior government approval.) The second bill deals with the ability of Cuba to purchase U.S. crops.

I can recall no other occasion, going back decades, when so many Cuban Americans, U.S. business executives and human-rights groups have coincided — independently — in informing elected representatives in Washington on how a change in current policy could achieve positive results for the 11 million people in what was the birthplace for so many of us. We were pleased to hear them acknowledge that our policy of isolation had not worked and would need to be changed.

But this does not play well with two strange bedfellows who want to keep things as they are:

▪ The Cuban government, which continues to find advantage in keeping the embargo so those in power can shift blame from its own mismanagement. In order for regimes to stay in power, their citizens must have a “common enemy.” In this instance, the United States provides the bogeyman.

▪ A handful of Cuban-American elected representatives who cultivate their hardline image by maintaining the more than a half-century embargo. By keeping the embargo, they extend the lifeline that the Cuban regime needs and wants.

What happened days ago illustrated how public, and even political, opinion has shifted. An unexpected clash occurred when the group representing Cuban-American House members demanded a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan in an effort to ensure that these two bills would not be heard on the House floor. Ryan stood by his principles and denied their requests. Now it seemed as though the vote would be heard by all. But that historic day was not to be.

Cuba’s recent action to deny visas to members of a powerful Congressional committee could simply be coincidental. But I suggest that it’s not. Logic and history lead to a more logical conclusion: Every time the U.S. government is close to making a game-changing move, the Cubans manage to derail even small steps toward reducing or ending the embargo. Following the recent Senate approval of these two bills, next up is the House. This week the House is scheduled to address the lifting of the U.S. travel ban on Americans as well as the allowance of private credit for Cuba to buy U.S. agricultural goods.

But Cuba’s visa denials can do what the South Florida delegation could not do. Indeed, this gives members of Congress a rationale to defeat two important pieces of legislation. What we get, then, is a win-win for the Cuban government and South Florida Congressional hardliners — an unlikely set of allies. In so doing, it would mean yet another year of denying Cuban citizens greater access to an improved economic life and more interaction with American visitors — our country’s best goodwill ambassadors.

For almost six decades, the Cuban government and South Florida politicians have waged undeclared war on one another. In this instance, as in many others, the regime in Cuba gets what it wants, and those on Capitol Hill think — wrongly — that the “good guys” somehow have won.

The bottom line: It’s really obscene when a foreign nation gets to play us, as we cheer.

Michael “Mike” B. Fernandez is chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners.