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The South Florida Roundup

Florida Roundup: 6 Questions About U.S.-Cuba Policy Changes

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Don McDougall
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Despite the president's diplomatic-restoration plans with Cuba moving through three days of Congressional hearings on Capitol Hill, discussions continue among South Floridians about parts of the policy. Whether changes to policy will influence change on the communist island is still up in the air. 

Below are excerpts of an interview during the Florida Roundup. Host Tom Hudson was joined by NPR's Michel Martin, Latino USA's Maria Hinojosa and WLRN's Tim Padgett.

Does the fate of the president’s plan rest in the hands of the South Florida congressional delegation?

Tim Padgett: No, not the president’s plan. Not the executive action, which is intent on reestablishing diplomatic ties with Cuba. Because even if they try to block things like, for example, setting up an ambassador in Havana, well, we already have a de facto ambassador in Havana, the head of the U.S. Interests Section. We already have a building there, which is a de facto embassy.

So the president’s plan to normalize diplomatic ties with Cuba, really, I don’t think Congress can do much to block that per se. ... What they can block, though, is the complementary action that the president wants, which is lifting the trade embargo and the travel ban. That’s what the South Florida congressional delegation [can do]. That’ll be the big question to see if they still have the clout to block those initiatives.

How does the special status of Cubans play outside South Florida?

Michel Martin: Cuban Americans get expedited status -- obviously this is something your listeners know very well -- but when other people in the country sort of see that it does raise the question, "Is that really fair?" And it opens up conversations that otherwise would be hard to have because the information isn’t captured anymore by a specific group.

You know, the totality of immigration policy is something that’s on the table. ... The conversations that are had in Washington are often very different from the ones people are having in the rest of the country, and that when those realities intrude that is when things change.

We have seen a huge increase in the number of Cuban immigrants coming to the United States and most of those are coming through the Mexican border. How has the policy change affected the number of Cubans coming to the states?

Tim Padgett: The whole irony of this increase in Cubans coming over the Mexican border is that a lot of Cubans have decided that they don’t want to risk the wet-foot part of the [wet-foot, dry-foot] equation. And what they’re finding is that it’s easier by sea to get into Mexico than it would be to the United States and then if they get over on land across the Mexican border they’re assured entry into the United States because that’s the dry-foot component.

The parents of actress Diane Guerrero, star of "Jane the Virgin" and "Orange is the New Black," were arrested and deported when she was 14. Diane’s experience may be common for many American immigrants, but not Cubans. How does this show up in the immigration debate?

Michel Martin: I was in Charlotte for [an] event a couple of months ago and met a young man -- we were talking about voting rights there, and I was talking to a group of young Latinos about their interest in voting -- I looked at this kid, he was like a typical college student to me. I thought he was really kind of trying to figure out how quickly he could go out on a pizza date with his girlfriend -- and then the next thing I know he’s telling me this story about being left alone in the country when his parents and older siblings were deported. He said "So the day I turned 18 I went and registered to vote."

Latino USA’s program this week was “The U.S. and Cuba: After the Thaw.” How does the White House balance its new strategy of engagement with the Castro regime with the worries from dissidents about the action?

Maria Hinojosa: In terms of the larger Latino population... one in four knows someone who has been detained or deported already. One in three Latinos are afraid that it could happen to them and actually in terms of Miami and [southern Miami-Dade County], the huge population growth in Mexicans and Central Americans, that dynamic of deportations and fear is very much present.

But things [in Cuba] are going to move very slowly. They seem to be moving really quickly and then actually when you’re there it’s, like, at a glacial pace. So what we’re seeing now is the reinvigoration of this conversation but I think frankly that, the fact that more people are going to have access to this information is going to make it even more complicated. 

Is what’s going on with the Republican administration on Capitol Hill reflective of any kind of legislative answer that could come from regarding the executive action?

Tim Padgett: That was the one thing that the opponents of President Obama’s new policy really weren’t able to bring to the table. Senator Rubio, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen brought a lot of good and valid points about human rights in Cuba. The problem is what solution were they bringing?

I think the administration’s rebuttal at these hearings was, "You’re exactly right about human rights, but what has your current policy that we’ve been living for the past 50-some years done to change that? What is your solution then to moving forward?" And the opponents don’t really have one. That’s their problem.

On Feb. 24, NPR’s Michel Martin will be in Miami to have a conversation about immigration among artists about the twists and turns of their journey. WLRN and NPR are gathering your immigration stories. What’s your immigration story? Share it with us, and join us then at the Koubek Center of Miami Dade College.

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