IS THERE REALLY A MIAMI SPRING ABORNING?
Miami's arch-reactionary Republican congressmen Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart are the symbols of the corrupt Cuban aristocracy that fled Castro's Revolution in 1959. Their father, Rafael Diaz-Balart, was a far right fanatic and the House of Representatives majority leader for the fascist party of Fulgencio Batista, the party whose vicious and extremist policies turned the vast majority of Cuba's people to Castro (Rafael Diaz-Balart's brother-in-law). Diaz-Balart founded La Rosa Blanca, the first counterrevolutionary group dedicated to killing the Revolution. He died a few years ago but his two reactionary sons are continuing his traditions in America, leaders of the old line Cuban American community in South Florida, Tomorrow's New York Times Magazine explores how the community has changed and has been turning away from extremist-- and pointless, pandering-- Republican politics.
The Times essay comes right on top of a local news story that proves its point: voter registration in Florida shows a huge swing towards Democrats and away from Republicans. Today's Sun-Sentinel:
An escalating number of voters registering as Democrats is providing evidence that the 2008 election could produce a wave of support for Barack Obama-- and trigger a decades-long shift of party allegiance that could affect elections for a generation.
The numbers are ominous for Republicans: Through May, Democratic voter registration in Broward County was up 6.7 percent. Republican registrations grew just 3 percent while independents rose 2.8 percent.
Democrats have posted even greater gains statewide, up 106,508 voters from January through May, compared with 16,686 for the Republicans.
"It's a huge swing," says Marian Johnson, political director for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. "I looked at that and said, 'Wow.'"
Democrats said Friday it's proof of what they have been seeing for months.
"Who would want to join a failed party? And that's what the Republican Party is today, a failed party," said U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D- Delray Beach, co-chairman of Obama's Florida campaign.
Broward Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar credits President Bush for increasing Democratic numbers. "The Democratic brand has cycled back."
The story is all about how this is likely to impact the contest between Senator Barack Obama and McBush. But to me, the more interesting aspect is how it impacts the Diaz-Balart Brothers' desperate attempt to cling to power. There really is a new day dawning for Florida's Cuban-American community which is increasingly more American and less Cuban as the old reactionaries like Rafael Diaz-Balart die off and more American-born Cuban-Americans, the grandchildren of the counterrevolutionaries, come of voting age.
...[I]f Cuban Miami does indeed continue to dream, it is also beginning, quietly, tentatively and painfully, to adjust. Backstage, something very new is happening. Call it the Miami Spring, or Cuban-American glasnost. This community that has clung for decades to its certainties — about the island itself, about the role the exile community would play after the Castro brothers passed from the scene, about where Cuban-Americans should situate themselves in terms of U.S. domestic politics — is in ferment. This matters not only in terms of the destiny of the Cuban-American community itself but also in terms of the 2008 elections since, despite claims made on background by some of Barack Obama’s advisers, Florida is likely to play a pivotal role in determining whether Obama or John McCain becomes president, and the Cuban-American vote is likely to play its usual outsize role in deciding which candidate prevails in the state.
Although South Florida Democratic powermonger Debbie Wasserman Schultz is content to be a funnel for right wing Cuban money to Democrats willing to sell their votes in the House-- and still refuses to back surging campaigns by progressive Cuban Americans, Joe Garcia, Annette Taddeo, and Raul Martinez against her corrupt pals the Diaz-Balarts and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen-- most Democrats have left her isolated and muttering darkly in her own frustrated anger and failure. She is the only Florida Democrat who hasn't learned the lesson tomorrow's Times Magazine is trumpeting:
"Today, and quite suddenly, that unwavering support for Republicans is no longer a given."
Until Mas Canosa’s death in 1997, “the Foundation,” as it is almost universally referred to in Miami, could legitimately be described as the power in the exile community, and Mas Canosa — it was always difficult to separate the man from the institution — was the person to whom both Republican and Democratic administrations turned for the seal of approval on all matters related to Cuba policy. But there is little question that while he supported some Democrats and could work with them on local problems, on the national level, Mas Canosa, like his constituency, was strongly Republican. The speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Marco Rubio, is a Republican, as are all three of greater Miami’s Congressional representatives — Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and his brother, Mario Diaz-Balart — and one of Florida’s two senators, Mel Martinez. And only the most optimistic Democratic political operative would go so far as to claim that Cuban South Florida is likely to eschew John McCain for Barack Obama, any more than it opted for John Kerry or Al Gore over George W. Bush. Senator McCain almost certainly represented the majority view in Cuban Miami when he insisted, in a speech there in May, that to soften the travel restrictions or the limits on remittances “would send the worst possible signal to Cuba’s dictators-- there is no need to undertake fundamental reforms; they can simply wait for a unilateral change in U.S. policy.”
But the fact that the Illinois senator would decide to take the bull by the horns and come out flatly for a less absolutist interpretation of Washington’s embargo in a speech before a Cuban-American audience in Miami-- and be received warmly at the foundation by Jorge Mas Canosa’s son-- is an emblem of the fact that the Cuban-American vote is in play even on what in exile politics is called el tema: the theme of the exile and of Cuba’s future. As Obama put it at the luncheon for him at the foundation: “I know what an easy thing it is to do for American politicians. Every four years, they come down to Miami, they talk tough, they go back to Washington and nothing changes in Cuba.” In a direct appeal to Cuban-American voters opposed to the restrictions on travel and remittances, the senator said it was “time to let Cuban-American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime.”
The Times piece emphasizes what DWT, despite Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has been saying all year: the Balart-Diaz Brothers can be defeated this year. They "are facing the first serious challenges of their careers. Instead of facing off against the comparative unknowns who have been the sacrificial lambs of the Democratic Party in the past in and around Miami, they are facing two extremely well-known (and surprisingly well-financed) Cuban-American Democrats: Raul Martinez, the controversial former mayor of the working-class (and overwhelmingly Cuban-American) city of Hialeah, just northwest of Miami, and a proven vote-getter for many years; and Joe Garcia, from his youth a protégé and then a trusted colleague of Jorge Mas Canosa’s and, after the older man’s death, his successor as head of the Cuban American National Foundation... The problem for the Diaz-Balart brothers is that this time they are facing competitors whose Cuban bona fides are beyond challenge, and who are more in tune with the social liberalism of much of the Cuban-American community. As Joe Garcia put it to me over coffee at the Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana, 'Mario is not going to out-Cuban me, that’s one thing you-- and he-- can count on.' (Mario Diaz-Balart declined to be interviewed for an article in what his press spokesman described as the 'left-wing New York Times,' asserting that it could not be objective; Lincoln Diaz-Balart simply did not respond to interview requests.)"
Both of the Diaz-Balarts sing a one-tune song: "Castro, Castro, Castro." It's a family tradition-- and although it still works for people over 50 and, especially over 60 and 70, younger Cuban-Americans have grown tired of it. There have been rumors for years that the CIA is plotting to install Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who was born in Havana, as the president of Cuba after the U.S. reasserts suzereignity over the island. That might explain why he hasn't been paying any attention to the needs of his constituents whatsoever. But while the Diaz-Balarts have their eyes on Cuba and GOP politics, the Cuban-American community has been changing. "Attitudes have been mutating for many years, particularly among people who have arrived from the island over the past decade and among the generation of young, native-born Cuban-Americans in college or now entering the work force, for whom Cuba is less a cause than a curiosity and, potentially at least, a business opportunity." For them Cuba isn't so much a "cause," as it is a place where they have relatives and friends they want to visit and help (something virtually everyone is doing surreptitiously in spite of GOP policies promulgated by Bush and supported by McBush. And they have memories of a place, memories that are different from when the Diaz-Balart family was part of a privileged aristocracy brutally ruling the roost.
Martinez was scathing about Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s record on constituent service. It seemed clear that as far as he was concerned, the priority should always have been what you could bring back to your district. “Claude Pepper,” he said, “who held this seat for decades, brought back federal money for affordable housing. Lincoln was in Congress when I was mayor of Hialeah. He never brought any bacon home. What I got, I got from other congressmen. What has Lincoln done? As we say in Cuba, he has one song, and he’s sticking to it. I want to do what Pepper did, what Dante Fascell did.” But to achieve this, Martinez conceded, meant challenging the way political dialogue has been structured in the Cuban-American community for decades. He said he sensed it was happening. “Where people used to worry about being called Communists,” he told me, “and that was something that ended the conversation in Miami, now times have changed. What people say to me is not, ‘How can you dare take these positions,’ but, ‘What took you so long?’ ”
If you'd like to donate to Joe Garcia's campaign, you can do it at the Blue America ActBlue page. He thinks it's tune to change the tune too: