Presidential candidates take on Castro in Florida
Republican White House contenders took the race to win their party’s nomination to Florida this week, where they tried to outdo each other on topics important to Floridians–including what to do about Cuba, the small, Communist, Spanish-speaking island that has long frustrated U.S. foreign policy.
In a debate on Monday in Tampa, the candidates took turns lambasting Castro and current U.S policy toward Cuba, striving to curry favor with conservative Cuban Americans who make up the majority of Florida’s 400,000-some Hispanic Republican voters.
Florida votes next in a primary race that has already had three different winners and is home to the country’s largest Cuban-American community–many of them former refugees who escaped the communist dictatorship under Fidel Castro. A 2011 poll by the University of Florida showed that 80 percent of Cuban Americans believe a decades-long U.S. trade embargo on the country has been ineffective.
He criticized Obama’s efforts to relax relations by opening up travel to the country for Cuban Americans to visit relatives. “This is the wrong time for that, with this kind of heroics going on,” he said. “We want to stand with the people of Cuba that want freedom. We want to move that effort forward not by giving in and saying we lost, but by saying we will fight for democracy.”
Rick Santorum, former senator for Pennsylvania, equated U.S. policy towards Cuba with the war on terror. “There is a growing network of folks now working with the Jihadists, the Iranians, who are very, very excited about the opportunity to having platforms 90 miles off our coast, just like the Soviets were, very anxious to have platforms 90 miles off our coast.”
Only Texas Representative Ron Paul differed in his opinion.
Reminding the audience that the Cold War is over, Paul said, “I think it’s time — time to quit this isolation business of not talking to people. We talked to the Soviets. We talk to the Chinese and we opened up trade, and we’re not killing each other now. ..I don’t know why the Cuban people should be so intimidating.”
Cuba and the United States have been at odds since Castro took power in 1959 and aligned the country with the Soviet Union, then the Cold War nemesis of the United States. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, U.S.-Cuba tensions have remained, and decades of economic sanctions have not succeeded in undermining the Castro regime.
Photo Credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder (Republican candidates on stage at a debate in Tampa, Florida)
Photo Credit: REUTERS/Desmond Boylan (A man waits for customers at a shoe-cleaning in Sagua La Grande, Cuba).