Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich arrived in South Florida last Thursday just in time for an evening fundraiser in Coral Gables. The following day, Gingrich visited Little Havana where he pledged a hard-line policy towards Cuba in a written letter to Miami's most intransigent Cuban exile organization, Unidad Cubana. While Unidad Cubana seemed very pleased by Gingrich's promise, they were probably even more pleased that a Presidential candidate had actually endorsed such an extremist policy. The letter, undoubtedly written in Miami and not by Gingrich, has now raised policy expectations by the most hard-line in Little Havana.
ENTER DAVID RIVERA
Thursday's fundraiser was held at the luxurious Biltmore Hotel where Gingrich met up with Rep. David Rivera (FL-25) who, surprising some, is strongly endorsing and accompanied Gingrich while in Miami. Rep. Rivera was recently named one of the "most wanted corrupt politicians in Washington," and, according to Politico's Alex Isenstadt, accepting Rivera's endorsement shows Gingrich in a "scramble to put an organization in place" before the Florida primary. But, in Miami, Rivera is untouchable.
For years, David Rivera has been consistent with his hard-line policy towards Cuba (e.g. supporting 2006's Florida academic travel ban to terror-sponsoring nations like Cuba [now heading to the Supreme Court], proposing legislation to reform the Cuban adjustment act in order to punish Cubans in Miami who dare return to their homeland, and welcoming alleged criminals to Miami like Luis Posada Carriles). And, this is why Rivera still has many strong supporters in Miami, namely Cuban exile political leaders and other supporters of a "free Cuba."
ENTER LITTLE HAVANA
Perhaps knowing that Newt Gingrich was "scrambling" for support in South Florida, hard-liners in Miami most likely saw an opportunity to raise the political stakes and asked Gingrich to accept their extremist positions on Cuba in exchange for the coveted Cuban-American vote.
Disguised as a letter written by Gingrich himself, the four points outlined describe traditional and recent frustrations from hard-line exiles in Miami. Keeping the U.S. embargo towards Cuba is standard, while full implementation of Helms-Burton has been a long-time grievance in Miami, but frustrated due to international pressure on Washington. Seeking criminal indictments of Fidel and Raul Castro was proposed by Rivera earlier this year, but has been part of the Cuban American National Foundation's policy recommendations for years, and a local project headed by Cuban exile militant Santiago Alvarez at least since 2010. And, reversing the Obama administration's relaxed travel restrictions for Cubans would be a tremendous relief for hard-liners who find it outrageously immoral to see Cubans traveling back and/or sending remittances to Cuba. (In reality, the new Obama travel policies are very popular in Miami, but hard-liners don't care.)
ENTER RADIO MAMBI
Before the interview on Friday morning, Newt Gingrich and David Rivera held a press conference inside the Univision Radio offices (Univision 23 report). Surrounded by the press, and various members of the hard-line Cuban exile community, Gingrich officially presented his so-called Cuba policy letter to Unidad Cubana, Miami's most intransigent Cuban exile organization. At the table, Gingrich sat next to Armando Perez-Roura, chairman of Unidad Cubana and programming director of Radio Mambi. Also nearby were members of Vigilia Mambisa, such as Laura Vianello and Miguel Saavedra.
Once ready inside the studio of Radio Mambi, Perez-Roura began by expressing his pleasure with the Gingrich pledge to fulfill the initiatives outlined in the letter. But, besides the outlined policy, Gingrich hardly had any other original ideas. Following his answer regarding Cuba travel restrictions, Gingrich added his idea of a "very aggressive public relations policy" which would include a "daily report" about human rights abuses and other violations by the Cuban government. The purpose of course would be to convince the world about the evil nature of the Cuban regime. But, I seriously doubt any country would use these reports to change their long-established relationships with Cuba.
When asked what he would do about the Alan P. Gross case, Gingrich gave no practical solution and instead suggested something similar to his "public relations policy" from before. Then, as if related in some way, Gingrich proposed implementing a "much more effective program" of intelligence and counter-intelligence "against pro-castro infiltrators." Of course, this is a nod to espionage cases like Ana Belen Montes and the Myers. But, with the U.S spending about $80 billion (!) on intelligence services, I'm confident that those agencies are doing just fine without Gingrich proposing a "more effective program" for them.
After leaving Miami, Gingrich's Cuba policy certainly lifted spirits and expectations, like that of Manuel Malgor. Besides being a member of AMCVA, Malgor is also active in other local political organizations that focus on Cuba, and he "couldn't find a single defect in what [Gingrich] said" concerning Cuba.
Armando Perez-Roura has told listeners that he now expects to receive a similar pledge from Mitt Romney upon his next visit to Little Havana. It will be very interesting to see how Romney's advisors can top the letter to Unidad Cubana. As a reminder, Perez-Roura has translated Gingrich's letter for the recent publication of Libre Magazine. (It is the only Spanish version since the Gingrich campaign forgot to translate it for their Spanish-language website.)
Little Havana is certainly looking forward to seeing Mitt Romney's Cuba policy.
[Newt Gingrich Interview on Radio Mambi]
Newt Gingrich Interview on Radio Mambi by Mambi Watch