NYT vs. "Hard-Line" Anti-Castro Activists in Little Havana

Every few years the Times will issue a piece of wishful thinking, outlining the hope that Miami Cubans (a stubborn minority group that refuses to vote for Democrats) had at last "evolved" beyond its "belligerent," "hard-line" opposition to Communist dictator Fidel Castro and support for the U.S. embargo against the island nation.

The latest example comes in the Sunday Magazine, from contributing writer David Rieff, "Will Little Havana Go Blue?" Rieff used variations on the term "hard-line" 12 times in the story to characterize opponents of Castro's tyranny in the Miami neighborhood of Little Havana, home to many Cuban exiles. Perhaps the anti-Castro tide has ebbed, with the 1997 death of activist Jorge Mas Canosa and an ailing Fidel's smooth transition of dictatorial power to his brother Raul. But why would the Times be so eager to cheer for such a moment to come to pass?

On the surface, political life in Cuban Miami seems unchanged. Little Havana is still partly a Disney version of a displaced Cuba and partly a genuine community hub, where families who have long since left for suburbia still come for nostalgic weekend lunches. At the Versailles Restaurant, the community newspapers preaching no compromise with Castro are all that are on offer. For almost four decades, the Versailles has been an obligatory stop for Washington politicians courting the Cuban-American community, visits that, as photographs in the restaurant attest, have often involved putting on a white guayabera, the four-pocket dress shirt that often replaces a coat and tie in the Caribbean. This familiar theater of intransigence - a staple of South Florida life at least since the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, when C.I.A.-backed Cuban exiles tried to overthrow the new Communist regime - is ubiquitous. Some Cuban-Americans point hopefully to a softening in the Spanish-language, Cuba-focused radio outlets that now dominate the South Florida market. But for an outsider, what is striking is the degree to which the hard-line stance endures, since it might have been supposed that 50 years of failure to influence events on the island might have led to the conclusion that the hard-line position needed to be reconsidered. Most officeholders in Florida and, for that matter, most national politicians continue to at least pay lip service to the dream of a post-Communist Cuba, even though, early this year, Fidel Castro succeeded in seamlessly handing over power to his brother Raúl - testimony, if any was needed, to the stability of the regime.


In the past, both Democratic and Republican contenders tried to conform to the hard-line expectations they perceived as the overwhelming consensus within the Cuban-American community. But Obama has recently strayed from orthodoxy by criticizing aspects of the American embargo on Cuba and asserting that he is prepared to open talks with the regime. This might seem like a golden opportunity for McCain to solidify his hold on the Cuban-American vote, but Obama's views appear to be resonating in Cuban Miami more than anyone could have predicted. Two Democratic Congressional candidates in the Miami area - Joe Garcia and Raul Martinez - were added last month to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's list of potential "red to blue" conversions, bringing to 37 the number of seats nationally that the Democrats hope to flip away from the Republicans. For the first time, the hard-line consensus is being challenged. ....Today, and quite suddenly, that unwavering support for Republicans is no longer a given.


Yet even Rivera conceded that the hard-line voting bloc is aging....Regarding the 300,000 or more people who have come from Cuba to the United States in the past 10 years, Rivera presented a subtle picture. "Anecdotally," he told me, "it's not that the post-1994 generation is pro-Castro, but instead that they think politics ruined their lives in Cuba, and so they are deeply apolitical. Whatever my Democratic friends may be telling themselves, whatever Raul [Martinez] and Joe [Garcia] may be hoping, they're not ready to be energized politically." There is little doubt that antipolitics is the strongest form of politics among these recent arrivals. Unlike earlier generations of exiles, most are not mourning the non-Communist Cuba that was and might have been. For them, Communism is a fact of life from childhood, not something alien - however much most may detest the regime and be glad to have made their way to the U.S. And while most would probably say they value the freedoms of the United States, there is little doubt that many, if not most, left for economic and family reasons.

Rieff somehow manages to detach his concept of "freedom" from economics. But if you're not free to run a business or work in a job of your choice, in what sense are you free?

Rieff is relieved that the days of the "diehards" are setting and that gauche displays of anti-Communist protests are "no longer acceptable." One wonders if the Times ever welcome a lessening of protest against a right-wing dictator.

Whether Joe Garcia and Raul Martinez win their bet, or instead, the Diaz-Balarts manage to win in what will almost certainly be a very bad cycle for Congressional Republicans, the change in Cuban Miami is palpable. Even the rhetoric of Washington politicians campaigning in South Florida seems to have grown more nuanced, as if these politicians and their staffs know that even David Rivera's hard-line "supervoters" are no longer as likely to be appeased by symbolism as they often were in the past. After Senator Obama's speech produced little outcry - with only a few diehards accusing him and the foundation, which hosted him, of being Communists or the dupes of Communists - Raúl Rodríguez said to me that what he and many people he knew were most grateful for was that, so far, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama "put on a guayabera or shouted, 'Viva Cuba libre.' It may have taken 50 years, but that at least is no longer acceptable."