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Thursday, Oct 30, 2014
Commentary

Grant: Free trade or continued oppression?

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My parents honeymooned there 80 years ago, and growing up I heard stories of this offshore paradise with pristine beaches and clear seas, classy Latin entertainment and a fantastic nightlife. It was a true American tourist destination. They sailed there on the Steamship Florida.

I have always dreamed of taking the kind of trip my parents took, visiting a vibrant and economically stable Cuba. But today it is like a third-world country.

The beaches and clear seas are still there, but what hasn’t closed has become rundown. Economic stability is a thing of the past, and people live in poverty, with those fortunate enough to have work making a pittance.

Fifty-two years ago, it became a Soviet beachhead 90 miles from our shores, complete with Soviet missiles. America made the right move, in the interest of national security, by setting up an economic blockade and shutting down trade and travel. There was no other choice.

That was then, and this is now.

What happens in Cuba is incredibly important to Florida, so no wonder it took the stage last week as the “issue de jour” in the Florida governor’s race. I wonder, though, whether it is about the issue, or about politics.

Charlie (“Flip-Flop”) Crist is for lifting economic sanctions (last week), after having been against it. It’s the standard MO for the Crist campaign. That way he can always say he agreed with everyone’s position at one time or another.

Then, Gov. Rick (“If Charlie’s for it, then I must be against it”) Scott says no to lifting economic sanctions. He wants to leave the status quo.

A new poll released by the nonpartisan Atlantic Council found more than 60 percent of Floridians favor normalizing relations or engaging more directly with Cuba. No wonder Charlie flipped on the issue.

All of a sudden, the U.S. embargo of Cuban products is the hot-button issue in Florida’s gubernatorial race as the candidates trade barbs over their respective Cuba policies. I guess it is more about the votes than the merits of the issue.

Charlie is currently right on this issue, though I suspect it is because what the pollsters tell him rather than the merits. After all, it is not an issue for the governor to decide anyway.

This is too important for Florida to be mired in petty politics. The issue should rise above that level.

Fifty-two years ago, economic sanctions were imposed in the right way and for the right reasons.

The merits have come and gone, and it is time to make a change.

The only argument I hear for maintaining the status quo is to continue to punish what is left of the Castro regime. Nikita Khrushchev has gone, and Fidel Castro has faded into the shadows. Even brother Raul is stepping down next year.

Some say it is necessary to continue sanctions since the regime remains a dangerous threat to the United States. Yeah, just like the threat of a mouse to a roaring lion.

The cost of continued economic sanctions and the denial of free trade with Cuba is the oppression of the Cuban people, the separation of expatriate Cubans from their family and homeland, and denial of economic stimulation for the United States, particularly Florida.

Last week I purchased a new pair of shoes and noticed that they were made in Vietnam, a country that was once our nemesis. But that was then, and this is now. Vietnam has become a major trading partner with the United States, and it is a relationship that has invigorated both country’s economies.

Just think of what Cuban free trade could do for Florida. The ports of Tampa and Miami would boom, and those of Cuban heritage, many concentrated in the Tampa Bay area, could see their homeland rise like a phoenix from the ashes and once again see Cuba sparkle as a pristine, open and free destination in the Caribbean.

Scott says that opening trade with Cuba would reward those in oppressive power. No, Rick, opening trade with Cuba would impress the depressed, and adversity would be replaced with prosperity.

Not only would Cuba thrive economically, with America and especially Florida being the prime beneficiaries, but it would open Cuba culturally, educationally and spiritually.

Last week I toured a melanoma research lab at The Moffitt Cancer Center to hear firsthand about a major breakthrough for treating that dreaded disease.

It was interesting to note that the three people who briefed us on their research were, respectively, from the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Vietnam.

We live in a global economy, and we need to be plugged into it in every area except when it might threaten our national security to do so.

It is time — past time — to open the economic doors of our closest neighbor to the South.

Cuba would be an extremely popular vacation spot, and it would give the people their jobs and a reason to hope for a brighter future.

And, from our perspective, what helps Cuba, helps Florida.

I can’t wait to travel to the new Cuba and enjoy the experience my parents enjoyed 80 years ago.

That’s my opinion, and I am sticking to it.

John Grant is a political columnist who served 21 years in the Florida Legislature. He practices law in Tampa and is a member of the faculty at Taylor University. He can be reached at: MyOpinions@JohnGrant.net.

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