O’Matz article US-CUBA debate SunSentinel 020515

Merits of Cuban policy shift debated by panel

FEBRUARY 5, 2015   11:15 AM

By Megan O’Matz

FORT LAUDERDALE – A former U.S. emissary to Cuba cast doubt Wednesday on the viability of the President’s plan to spur democracy in Cuba by lifting certain sanctions and making it easier for Americans to visit the Communist-led island.

“Normalization I predict will not happen,” said Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason, who served as head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 2002 to 2005. Cason spoke at a breakfast meeting of the Tower Forum in Fort Lauderdale

Other countries, he noted, have traded with Cuba for years and permitted their citizens to travel to the island, unlike the United States. However, that influx had not had the desired effect of transforming the country’s restrictive government.

It’s foolish, he said, to expect that American tourists, most of whom do not speak Spanish, will bring some “democratic pixie dust” and effect change.

What’s more, Cuban President Raul Castro has said publicly he will not allow the U.S. to intervene to promote democracy and has made demands that some see as absurd, such as calling on the U.S. to pay Cuba nearly $1 trillion for damages caused by the embargo.

Cason was part of a lively but civil discussion before nearly 200 business executives about whether the normalization plan is a step in the right direction. C-Span filmed the event.

Three other members of the panel had diverse views on the topic.

Ricardo Herrero, executive Director of #CubaNow, a group that’s pushed for more engagement with the Cuban people, said he came to believe the embargo was a failure after visiting Cuba and hearing driven young people say they wanted to leave and start their own businesses in Miami. The Cuban youths explained to him it was “because there’s absolutely no opportunity here.”

Alfredo Duran, a Cuban-born lawyer in Miami and veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion, also hailed the President’s efforts, saying it’s the first attempt at crafting a legitimate policy toward Cuba that’s in America’s best interest, rather than simply reacting to the demands of Cuban exiles in New Jersey and Florida to secure political votes.

momatz@tribune.com or 954-356-4518