Not their fathers' Cuban-American politics
Jorge Mas Santos stands in an elegant Coral Gables living room espousing what, until very recently, was heresy here - moderation toward Cuba.Skip to next paragraph
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"We do not need the 101st Airborne in Havana," Mr. Mas tells a group of the best and brightest young Cuban-Americans who've gathered for drinks and crudités. "We have to change the debate, talk about the violations of human rights, the need for elections, the enslaving of the Cuban people. That's what we need to show the world, that's a compelling argument that cannot be debated."
With Cuban-American relations more strained than at any time since the missile crisis 40 years ago, Mr. Mas Santos's words are particularly salient. But what makes them still more striking - and revealing - is that Mas Santos's father was Jorge Mas Canosa, powerful founder of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which over the last 20 years has shaped the hard-line US policy toward Cuba as well as more than one presidential election in Florida.
Now, as the Bush administration prepares its response to Fidel Castro's recent crackdown on dissidents and emigrants, it's confronted by a new dilemma: Cuban-Americans, a key political constituency, are split between the traditional hard-liners and a new generation of moderates like Mas Santos, who has taken over the chairmanship of the CANF. The old guard is lobbying to have the US cut off the funds - more than a billion dollars annually - that Cuban-Americans send to their families on the Caribbean island, and to ban all travel there.
The moderates, made up of younger Cuban-Americans and newer migrants from the island, object to both those aims, and would prefer the administration to champion human rights and free speech - and indict Castro as a war criminal.
To come up with a policy that satisfies both sides, says Sergio Bendixen, a Florida pollster and political analyst, "is not going to be easy."
For a generation, presidential contenders have come to Miami to court the powerful Cuban-American lobby here in Little Havana. Their goal: to win the blessings of the senior Mas Canosa, who often met with them at the Versailles Restaurant on 8th Street, where the staples are beans and rice and fried plantains, and the politics were fairly simple. Pledge a crackdown on Castro, and Mas Canosa could deliver 85 to 90 percent of the crucial Cuban-American vote - and potentially swing Florida in your favor.
But even before he died in 1997, Mas Canosa had grown more moderate, in part because of the hard-line policy's failure to bring on Castro's downfall, and in part because the demographics of Miami's Cuban-American community were already changing.
It's estimated that as many as 20,000 Cubans migrate to the US each year. Unlike those who came in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s - who were fleeing political persecution - many of the newer arrivals are economic refugees. And most, like Sulima Reyes, end up in Miami. She works selling items wholesale to the "dollar stores" around Little Havana.
She arrived six and a half years ago, leaving her father and sisters back home, and now, when she can, she sends them money for medicine and food. While she's no fan of Castro, she wants to maintain that contact with her family, and keep the option to visit.