We asked our friend Yamina Vicente, who runs Decorazón, an event-planning firm in Havana, if her business benefits from our Hallmark card-driven “holiday,” Valentine’s Day.
She wrote us back:
February 14th is a date chosen by many couples to celebrate their marriage. In Cuba, many couples fill spaces with flowers, music, and harmony. Our business,
Decorazón, gets asked for a wide range of services on Valentine’s Day. This year, we will celebrate the wedding of two young people – Manuel and Lisandra – who have decided to join their lives in marriage.
That’s romantic. Even more, it’s a sign that Manuel and Lisandra believe that Cuba offers them a future.
This was an extraordinary week. Hardly a day went by, here and abroad, without a hopeful sign that policy toward Cuba can change.
As the BBC reported, the European Union has agreed to reverse its 27-year-old “common position” and launch talks with Cuba to restore diplomatic relations with the island.
As the Miami Herald reported, USAID “has been left out of the $17.5 million appropriated for Cuba democracy programs this fiscal year, amid complaints over partisan political fighting and agency mishandling of the programs.”
Senator Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota returned from her recent visit to the island saying, “I think 55 years of this relationship is probably enough, and it’s time to now transition to a different relationship.”
The Sun-Sentinel reported, ”A growing number of aging Cuban exiles are returning to their birthplace, no longer willing to wait for the end of the Castro regime or to outlast the U.S. embargo before seeing their homeland.”
The Associated Press also found there are “a growing number of powerful South Florida Cuban-American business, civic and political leaders breaking the long-held public line on U.S. relations with Cuba and the Castro government.”
As Politico reported, former Governor Charlie Crist, hoping to win election in 2014 and move back into the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee, told Bill Maher this week: “It’s obvious to me that we need to move forward, and I think get the embargo taken away.”
None of these are trivial shifts. Then, the coup de grâce: the Atlantic Council released survey research which found, as the AP reported, that “56 percent of Americans and 63 percent of Floridians support engaging more directly with the communist island. In Miami-Dade County, home to the largest concentration of Cuban-Americans, 64 percent of adults said they favor changing U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba.”
Oh, the frenzy – just like the invective unleashed against Alfonso Fanjul, the exile sugar baron condemned as a ‘pathetic tycoon’ for wanting to replant his family flag in Cuba, the hardline supporters of Cuba sanctions went after the poll with all guns blazing.
First, they called it a “push poll,” defined by Elliot Abrams as a poll designed to elicit a certain result and then advertised as achieving that result. So did Capitol Hill Cubans. So did Babalú Blog. Second, they argued the poll “undermines pro-democracy efforts in Cuba,” and said that it “ignores the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people.”
Most of all, they dismissed the findings as irrelevant.
“I don’t see the poll as changing the public policy of the Congress of the United States,” Sen. Bob Menendez told the Miami Herald. Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC, argued public opinion in Miami didn’t matter, because “every single Cuban-American elected official — in any position — in Miami-Dade County supports the embargo.”
Think about that. In the fight against tyranny in Cuba, sanctions supporters made the unusual argument that majority opinion in the United States meant…nothing.
Just so you know; the survey is statistically sound. As for the assumption that “if you don’t agree with the 52-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba…You too must be a communist,” that’s absurd as Tim Padgett wrote this week. Just so you know, Miriam Leiva, whose pro-democracy credentials are stronger than most, wrote in an essay that changing U.S. policy would help the nascent Cuban private sector and create a better climate for Cuba’s civil society.
The poll – and hats off to the Atlantic Council for doing it – demonstrates there’s more political space to change the policy. Most of all, there are plenty of ideas for what can be done to fix it. Ask Rep. Sam Farr, ask Rep. Kathy Castor, ask the Brookings Institution, or ask us.
What a week! It would come as no surprise if the hardliners ended theirs wondering, “Where is the love?”
It’s in Havana. Where, as Yamina told us, Manuel and Lisandra are heading toward a life of “tangible happiness.” Maybe they can build a future without U.S. policy telling them how it should be done.
Happy Valentine’s Day.