On February 24, 1996, Cuban fighter jets shot down two private planes belonging to a humanitarian group called Brothers to the Rescue. The planes were patrolling the waters between Cuba and the Florida Keys, in search of Cuban refugees, seeking to make their way northward to take advantage of the United States’ “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which granted temporary protective status and a pathway to citizenship.
The two planes were manned by four men: Armando Alejandre, Carlos Costa, Mario de La Pena, and Pablo Morales, who were shot down in international waters, in a move that prompted swift condemnation, including from the UN Security Council. These men are regarded as heroes in Florida’s large Cuban community; a community that plays an outsized role in national elections, and largely votes Republican, due to the G.O.P.’s affinity to the anti-Castro, anti-Communist cause.
Recent machinations by the Cuban community have stirred a movement to call for the indictment of Raul Castro, who at the time headed Cuba’s military forces, on murder charges.
The Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, a powerful coalition of exile groups, has led the charges, calling for Castro to face charges for his role in the Brothers to the Rescue fiasco, as well as “crimes committed with his support and intervention in Venezuela and now in Nicaragua.”
The Cuban community has a long memory, and many lost everything in the Cuban Revolution, which saw a Communist dictatorship confiscate private property on the island. It has long demanded compensation for the theft of that property, and now it has the Trump administration’s ear.
Trump is now allowing implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, proposed by Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Representative Dan Burton (D-IN), that would allow US citizens to sue foreign companies that profit from the confiscation of their private property.
The Helms Burton Act had stalled due to Democratic filibusters in the Senate, but in the wake of the Brothers to the Rescue incident, public opinion shifted. The Democrats viewed it as risky to oppose the measure, and the bill eventually sailed through the Senate by a comfortable vote of 74-24.
The application of the Helms-Burton act poses problems: it is likely to antagonize Canada and Europe, as several Canadian and European corporations have significant investments and business interests in Cuba. American companies that are working in Cuba could also find themselves subjects of lawsuits.
The extent of the value of American private property confiscated at the hands of the Communist dictatorship has often been assessed at USD $8 billion. Many are concerned that the Trump administration’s changes will now pave the way for a flood of lawsuits.
Trump’s move will certainly damper enthusiasm for foreign investment in Cuba, which will be a welcome relief to the vocal Miami-based Cuban community, and an encouraging sign to the Nicaraguans and Venezuelans who are currently enduring their very own version of Cuban-backed Communist dictatorship.
Trump and his hardline National Security Adviser John Bolton are eager to use every means at their disposal to end Cuban support for the Communist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro. They have recently labeled the trio of Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela the “troika of tyranny”, and used this message effectively in tandem with denunciation of the growing influence of socialists in the Democratic Party.
Ultimately, Cuba and Venezuela will be key to our foreign policy, and Trump’s 2020 reelection, where Florida looms large. It is safe to say that as Florida goes, so goes the nation. Even more potentially ominous for Trump, any political analyst worth his salt would readily acknowledge that Trump must win Florida to win the electoral college. Without it, and its lucrative 29 electoral college votes, there are few credible paths to 270 for the Trump campaign.
If Trump continues to credibly and coherently denounce the dictatorships of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, Latino voters will listen, especially in Florida. This will be especially effective when Bernie Sanders not only fails to denounce them, but has a long history of supporting them.
This even includes solidarity tours to visit with the Cuban Communist regime and the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega.
Trump’s reelection path starts in Florida, and he must make the stories of Venezuelan, Cuban, and Nicaraguan refugees a cornerstone of his anti-socialism message.