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Opinion: On Cuba, Senator Rubio Doesn't Speak for Us

by Carmen Pelaez /  / Updated 
June 16, 2017: Sen. Marco Rubio walks with U.S. President Donald Trump after he announced policy changes he is making toward Cuba at the Manuel Artime Theater in the Little Havana neighborhood on June 16, 2017 in Miami, Florida.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Senator Marco Rubio sided with a small minority of Cuban Americans to go against the wishes of the majority of us, proving that choosing to do the opposite of what you were put in power to do didn’t start and end with Fidel; it's an ugly tradition that made the 90-mile trip to Miami.

A few weeks ago, President Donald Trump announced ‘a total cancellation’ of Obama’s Cuba’s policy. Senator Rubio, along with a shrinking group of hardliners in the Cuban-American community applauded wildly and Trump took it in like two big scoops of vanilla ice cream. The spectacle must have been a welcomed distraction for Trump; I don’t blame him for lapping it up. I do, however, very much fault Marco Rubio for giving it to him at the cost of his constituents and Cuba’s future.

In the early years of President Obama’s administration, Cubans earned the right to travel and dissidence grew exponentially, thanks to the remittances that flowed freely to the island. The internet was expanded as more Cubans used cell phones and computers.

June 16, 2017: Sen. Marco Rubio walks with U.S. President Donald Trump after he announced policy changes he is making toward Cuba at the Manuel Artime Theater in the Little Havana neighborhood on June 16, 2017 in Miami, Florida.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

More importantly, after Obama introduced the official policy change and re-established diplomatic relations, the private sector grew to an unimaginable twenty-five percent of the population, major U.S. Corporations started working to operate on the island and the free market started to create countless collaborations between Cubans and Americans in all fields, from medical research to video gaming.

Sure, the regime would take their cut, adding more cash to their already overflowing coffers, but important restrictions on the island were starting to break down. Cubans were finally depending on themselves, not the government, to invest in the country they wanted to live in.

All of this was not without major pitfalls. The Castro government is after all a dictatorship. Increased dissidence was followed by increased detentions. Cubans on the island are frustrated that tourists are making food unaffordable and the lack of support for the private sector is causing country-wide discontent.

The hope that President Obama gave the populace was starting to turn into disappointment for Cubans desperate for a faster transformation. But for the first time in decades, Cubans had nobody to blame but the Castros, which was actually forcing the Cuban government to concede to changes that they couldn’t control.

As a strategy, it was a gamble, but it was yielding results and a majority of Cuban Americans understood that the Castros may have won the political battle, but we were finally winning the economic war.

The transition to a civil society had begun and Cuban Americans rewarded the trust that Obama put in us as a people by delivering Dade County for Hillary in 2016 by a wider margin than he won it in 2012.

Obama created the space for Cubans from all over the world to invest in our country. He knew if he did, we would recognize that the future was ours and that whatever became of us now was going to depend on us, not the megalomania of one man or family. And it was working beautifully. Enter Rubio.

It doesn’t surprise me that Rubio doesn’t have faith in the Cuban people. His politics are like a weather vane, his cynicism being the only consistent thing about his trajectory.

By all estimates, Rubio only changed about twenty percent of the actual policy, proving he knows it has been working despite arguing relentlessly against it since its unveiling in 2014.

If he’d taken even one trip to the island, or accepted the invitation to the summit of young Cuban entrepreneurs, the same one he pretends to champion now, he would know these changes only serve to push progress back into the dark rooms and ambiguous legalities filled with men desperate to hold on to power. Where Obama’s team was playing chess, Rubio is playing tic-tac-toe in a pointless power cat’s game.

It’s also important to consider how this blustering rhetoric could impact the rest of Latin America. Finally, the United States was working with our hemisphere’s leaders as corrupt leftists governments were falling like dominoes. Rubio has handed them a rallying cry, insuring years of disarray ahead.

Rubio could have aligned himself with the new Cuban policy when it evolved. Instead, he chose to ignore its effectiveness and trade on the trauma of hard line exiles, placing them on the side of the most corrupt President in history.

And for what? To claim a participation trophy when all he’s done is kick the ball into his own team’s net, handing the Cuban government a familiar win so that he can assure himself a second Presidential run?

CNN didn’t play Rubio's introductory remarks about riding on Air Force One or how cool the motorcade was. But the Cuban government made sure every word he uttered was heard across the island, washing away the life-saving bridges we worked so hard to build.

Just two days after the spectacle in the Maritime theater, Vladimir Putin announced that he’s considering putting a military base in Cuba and other countries such as Venezuela and Nicaragua. A hell of a price to pay for a seat President Trump’s table. Unseemly indeed.

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