Hialeah or Havana? Miami, Cuba and the Presidential campaign

(Published at Counterpunch.com)  Already the shape of the presidential campaign over Cuba is forming around the tired rhetoric of the past. It reminds me of a story.

As a child, one of my contemporaries lived in a large house with his grandparents. They seemed impossibly old to me at the time. Their entire downstairs–the only part of the house where I was allowed as a visitor from the outside– was like a museum in homage to a lost world. The heavy velvet drapes closed to the outside world. The cut Victorian glasses and decanter. The photographs in silver frames of somber men, goatees and beards, tails and tophats.

The grandfather had been personal physician to a dictator in his homeland, had emigrated to the United States, yet by the time our paths crossed, theirs still clung to the order that defined the grandfather’s life until concerns of personal and family survival forced him to exile.Though he was safe and prosperous in the new world, he struggled to adapt to its new reality and a status that paled in comparison.

The way my friend’s grandfather imposed the weight of memory on his grandchildren reminds me of Miami, exactly. But grandfathers get old, ill and forgetful. Grandchildren grow up and become forgetful too.

In respect to Cuba, we are in the time of the grandchildren. As the static in the foreground fades, the noise in the background becomes much clearer.

For instance, in Miami we can now see that much of the anti-Castro rhetoric served the further purpose of enforcing Miami’s political orthodoxy, where the stakes had less to do with claims against stolen property in Havana, than monopolizing government contracts in Miami for roads, for the airport, for water pipes and infrastructure.

Cuban American developers, who fund much of the paid-for editorial content on conservative Spanish language radio as well as campaign contributions, are down on their luck in the midst of a housing crash they helped trigger through manipulation of zoning changes and policies here, Tallahassee, and Washington.

It is not “all about money” but it is also not all about values of pre-Castro Cuba, either. Simply, there is money in Havana and there is none, in South Dade farmland / cash machine.

If they are not already doing business in Havana, through Spanish or Canadian corporations, Cuban American businessmen are watching competitors secure advantage, contacts and experience.

The ranting in Miami is not just a continuing, diversionary exercise: it is a waste of time. The Congressional elections in Miami, where Democrats are challenging incumbent Republicans for the first time in a serious way, reflects the new reality. That the Cuban American National Foundation is hosting an event for Barack Obama is not just a courtesy; it is a reflection of economic reality.

There is, as a result, an odd moment of transition in Miami. Campaign contributors from suburban sprawl put county elected officials into office, relying on harsh anti-Castro orthodoxy to ensure that their zoning changes in Miami Dade farmland will go through by an unreformable majority vote, yet economics require change.

As far as my friend is concerned– the one whose grandfather swaddled his home with the fabrics of an old world order–he moved to Arizona where he is a plastic surgeon and lives with his third wife. How does he keep the memories of his grandparents’ generation? I don’t know. Life goes on.

My ambivalence is fueled by news from everywhere, every day, that there is only murderous nature where the poisons of revenge and retribution infect our own short time on earth.

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