Jeb Bush gets tough on Cuba

 

Former Gov. Jeb Bush's call for strengthening the U.S. embargo of Cuba signals a get-tough approach to foreign policy sure to please his political base of Cuban-American conservatives.

 

William E Gibson, Washington Bureau, Sun Sentinel

 

One big question is whether Bush's pro-embargo position will alienate some voters, including thousands of Cuban-Americans who are streaming to the island and sending money to family members.

 

Former Gov. Jeb Bush's call for strengthening the U.S. embargo of Cuba signals a get-tough approach to foreign policy sure to please his political base of Cuban-American conservatives.

 

One big question is whether Bush's position will alienate other voters, including thousands of Cuban-Americans who oppose the embargo and are streaming to the island to visit family members.

 

Bush's stance, affirmed during a speech in Coral Gables on Tuesday, sets up a clear contrast to Hillary Clinton, the potential Democratic frontrunner for president. She wants to lift the embargo and normalize relations with Cuba.

 

Bush acknowledged this week that he is "thinking about running for president." If he and Clinton are nominated by their respective parties, they will compete hard for Florida, the biggest swing state and home to 70 percent of the nation's Cuban-Americans.

 

"I would argue that instead of lifting the embargo we should consider strengthening it again to put pressure on the Cuban regime," Bush told cheering supporters at a gathering of the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC, a pro-embargo advocacy group.

 

Bush did not spell out proposals for strengthening the embargo. But he implied that he wanted to reverse travel rules made by President Barack Obama that allow Cuban-Americans to make unlimited trips to visit relatives in Cuba and send unlimited amounts of money. Obama also cleared a path for Americans to take educational and cultural tours to Cuba to establish closer people-to-people ties.

 

"Literally, hundreds of thousands of people travel to Cuba from the United States, spending billions of dollars," Bush said.

 

"Would lifting the embargo change the fact that the government receives almost all of the money that comes from these well-intended people that travel to the island?"

 

Bush also implicitly criticized "a lot of Republicans who were saying, `We need to lift the embargo so that we can sell things to Cuba,' as though Cuba would pay it back."

 

Bush, long an embargo proponent, remains tied to Florida's Cuban exile community, a bond forged by business and political alliances after he moved to Miami in the early 1980s. That includes close relationships with U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, Miami Republicans and stalwart defenders of the embargo.

 

"His (Bush's) political base has always been the most conservative wing of the Cuban-American community," said William LeoGrande, a Cuba policy expert and government professor at American University in Washington.

 

But the Cuban-American vote and once-solid support for the embargo have fragmented in recent years.

 

Only 47 percent of Cuban-American voters nationwide identify with or lean toward the Republican Party — down from 64 percent a decade ago, according to a survey last year by the Pew Research Center, a Washington think tank. The share of Cuban-Americans who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party doubled from 22 percent to 44 percent.

 

Cuban-Americans in the Miami area are evenly split on the embargo, and 69 percent want to lift travel restrictions, according to a survey in June by Florida International University.

 

Clinton was a hardliner on Cuba policy during her 2008 presidential campaign but gradually shifted into an embargo opponent during her time as secretary of state.

 

"I think we should advocate for the end of the embargo," Clinton said last June at an event sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. "We should advocate for normalizing relations and see what they (Cuban officials) do."

 

She saw that Obama did not suffer a political backlash in Florida -and may have gained support- by taking a more moderate position and easing travel rules.

 

"Barack Obama in 2008 said explicitly that the policy of hostility of 50 years had failed and it was time to try something new," LeoGrande said. "And then in 2012, still with a moderate policy toward Cuba, he got about half the Cuban-American vote. So I think Hillary Clinton has noticed that and is now pursuing a strategy on Cuba that is a lot closer to Barack Obama's."

 

By contrast, Bush this week called for a tougher policy on Cuba and for bolder American leadership elsewhere in the world.

 

"The U.S. should only have a new relationship with Cuba when there is progress on basic human rights for the Cuban people, including the release of political prisoners, fair and free elections, respect for the rule of law, the cessation of destabilizing countries in the region and the embrace of a free-market economy," Bush said. "Then and only then should (the embargo) be lifted."

 

 

Cubanálisis - El Think-Tank

IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE

FOR PEOPLE WHO READ IN ENGLISH: ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS IN ENGLISH  OR TRANSLATED. PUBLICATION DOES NOT MEAN WE ENDORSE OR REJECT CONCLUSIONS OR STATEMENTS OF AUTHORS