President Bush proposed a multi-billion dollar fund to prepare for what he called “Cuba’s transition to a future of freedom and progress and promise.” His “tough language was warmly received” by his handpicked audience of sympathetic Cubans sitting in the State Department’s Benjamin Franklin room.
But all that warm and fuzziness may soon become shock and awe when Cuban Americans discover the tough language in the separate and more discreet 2005 announcement of “Operation Vigilant Sentry,” a multi-agency Bush plan to jail more than 45,000 Cuban and other Caribbean migrants on the Guantanamo naval base in the event of a massive exodus. At least two huge tents are planned to go up alongside tents already holding some 330 prisoners/detainees/enemy combatants (pick your label ) the U.S. has not deigned to charge. The new strategy makes obvious the Al-qaedization of Cuban and other immigrants, a fusion of national security and immigration policy that critics say is warping the debate about the rights of not-so-threatening farm workers, maids and busboys.
Bush’s announcement of the “freedom fund” and the continuation of the U.S. embargo against the island is designed, in part, to court Cuban-Americans, many of whom are still incensed at U.S. regulations limiting travel between the United States and Cuba. The 2004 announcement of the restrictions by Bush’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, means that Cubans who had grown used to visiting family on the island at least once a year can now see their relatives only once every three years.
As a result, significant political divisions have taken root among heretofore reliably Republicano Cuban-Americans, divisions that have created a huge opening for Democrats in next year’s elections. Things have become so competitive in Florida that once invincible Cuban American pols like Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R), an eight-term incumbent, are viewed as very vulnerable. Also adding to the Republican dilemma down in South Florida is the issue of immigration. The zeal with which they have pursued the issue will likely come back to bite them and South Florida will be one of several national bellwethers.
How Cuban Americans interpret Bush’s calls to “freedom” as they try to locate their mothers, fathers, children and loved ones in the sea of orange jumpsuits on Guantanamo will be muy interesante.