The bet made by President Barack Obama on normalization with Cuba made a first collateral victim in the United States: the unity of the Republican Party, which has the most Cuban elected represented in Congress. In the early hours of the announcement made simultaneously on 17 December in Washington and Havana, the senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, born in Miami to parents who had emigrated before the revolution, took the lead of the opposition to presidential initiative, promising to do everything in his power to block the opening of an embassy in Havana, the appointment of an ambassador, and any attempt to lift the embargo imposed since 1960, which reports only to the Congress.
Many Republicans chiefs expressed their support to the line drawn by Mr Rubio, a potential candidate for the presidential election of 2016, starting with the one that was the first to take a step towards the nomination, Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida, the US state where most residents of Cuban immigrants. The Congress has seven elected members of Cuban origin, three in the Senate and four in the House of Representatives. A proportion greater than the part of the Cuban community in the US population.
But another likely candidate for the 2016 presidential election, Senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, has publicly taken up the traditional Republican line of high firmness towards Havana. “Even those who support it, think that the embargo did not work. A policy of isolation towards Cuba and engagement with China and Vietnam is meaningless (…). Submerge the regime of Castro with iPhone, iPad, American cars and ingenuity of the United States (…). Let’s unleash a trade tsunami that will wash away once and for all Castro in the sea,” he wrote in an article published by Time magazine. Formed in the libertarian long embodied by his father, Ron, former representative from Texas, and rightly defender of isolationism, Paul tries to distance himself to expand his electoral base.
The economic argument was also advanced by the powerful lobby of the American Chamber of Commerce, traditional support of conservatives. The latter, who performed an unprecedented exploratory trip to Cuba this year, immediately welcomed the initiative by Mr Obama. It assured in a statement to be convinced that “an open dialogue and trade between US and Cuban private sectors produce shared benefits.”
The Democratic Party has overwhelmingly supported the decision of Mr Obama, with the exception of Robert Menendez Senator of New Jersey, a state that also has a large Cuban community. Mr. Menendez presided until now over the powerful Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, but he will be replaced in January by a Republican of Tennessee, Robert Corker, who refrained from any trench reaction following announcements by Barack Obama.
“Mr Rubio is taking a risk”
“Marco Rubio takes a risk to assert as strongly on this subject that is felt in such an emotional way as in Florida,” said Guillermo Grenier, who pilot since 1991 the political ideas on opinion polls of Cuban immigrants in Florida International University in Miami. “It may well be that the congressmen elected from grain States are saying, finally, why don’t sell our grain to Cuba?”
The quintessential pivot state, Florida is the subject of attention of potential candidates for the presidential election. The changing attitudes towards the embargo, including those within the Cuban community, make it no longer prohibitive to decide in favour of normalization with Cuba. Analysis of the results of the election for governor on November 4 proves this point, says Grenier. The Democratic candidate Charlie Crist, rather in favor of lifting the embargo, was certainly narrowly defeated by Republican incumbent Rick Scott, but he was the victim of a lesser mobilization of Democrats rather than a protest vote of the electors of Cuban origin.
According to Ernesto Cabo, host of association in favour of normalization with Cuba (Cuban Americans For Engagement), most Cubans opposed to reconciliation are also comparatively fewer on US registered voters list than those who support it. According to the studies of Mr Grenier, these newer immigrants also voted mostly for Obama in the presidential election of 2012, as well as the younger population of the country.