Miami Herald: Florida Democrats stood up to support Cuba protests. 40 of their colleagues disagreed
Washington, November 4, 2021
One by one, Florida Democrats stood up on the floor of the House of Representatives to speak in favor of a symbolic, bipartisan resolution expressing support for Cubans who protested against their government and condemning the regime’s violent response. Make no mistake we are united today around the Cuban people’s fight for libertad and patria y vida,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
BY ALEX DAUGHERTY
The speakers in favor included three of South Florida’s four Democrats in Congress, and U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Val Demings, who are aiming to run in statewide elections for governor and U.S. Senate next year.
“Make no mistake we are united today around the Cuban people’s fight for libertad and patria y vida,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, one of the resolution’s co-authors along with Miami Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and New Jersey Democratic U.S. Rep. Albio Sires. “I ask all members to embrace the unifying principles in this resolution, which avoids the policy arguments and expresses our support for basic human rights. Who could be against that?”
Minutes later, 40 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against the resolution, which called for “expressing solidarity with Cuban citizens demonstrating peacefully for fundamental freedoms, condemning the Cuban regime’s acts of repression, and calling for the immediate release of arbitrarily detained Cuban citizens.”
The resolution passed on a 382-40 vote, with four lawmakers voting “present.”
The 40 dissenting votes, along with three Democrats and one Republican who voted “present,” are a small minority of the 431 sitting U.S. House members. None of the dissenting votes were from Florida lawmakers, but they provided fresh fodder for Republican attacks.
“Take a good look at those standing on the wrong side of history,” Diaz-Balart tweeted after the vote, sharing the list of “no” votes, which included high-profile left-leaning Democrats like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Minnesota U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar. “These members voted against a bipartisan resolution condemning the Cuban tyranny’s oppression and vowing solidarity with the brave Cuban people demanding freedom. This is a matter of basic human rights & democracy.”
Wednesday’s resolution vote was not intended to be a referendum on the preferred path of U.S. policy in Cuba, where President Joe Biden has so far not acted on campaign promises to undo many of former President Donald Trump’s Cuba policy changes. But the dissenting Democrats, many who are longtime opponents of the U.S. embargo, said symbolic resolutions that do not address the embargo are insufficient.
“H. Res. 760 states that Cubans took to the streets to protest a worsening economic situation, shortages of food and medicine and the denial of freedom of expression. I agree,” said Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, a longtime opponent of the embargo. “We can defend the right to peaceful protest and remove restrictive U.S. policies that add to the economic pain experienced by the Cuban people. It is hypocritical to denounce the former while failing to fix the latter. For these reasons, I voted no.”
Florida Democrats Wasserman Schultz, Crist, Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto spoke in favor of the bill on the House floor. Miami Republicans Diaz-Balart and Maria Elvira Salazar also spoke in favor of the resolution on the House floor.
“The people of Cuba have cried out for freedom and because of who we are we must answer the call,” Demings said. “The failed socialist regime in Cuba has delivered tyranny instead of freedom, poverty instead of prosperity.”
Only one Democrat, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California, spoke in opposition.
“They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, well for 60 years we have been squeezing the Cuban people thinking that if we starve them just enough it will somehow lead to democracy,” Lee said. “It’s long overdue to support policies that truly help the Cuban people. We should have an honest debate about a new Cuba policy that talks about and supports real human rights for the Cuban people.”
The continued divide on Cuba policy within the Democratic party comes as Miami Republicans have largely solidified an anti-embargo stance within the GOP. For four years, Republicans like Rubio and Diaz-Balart successfully convinced the Trump administration that supporting the embargo and taking a hard line on Cuba was a political winner in South Florida, and the 2020 election results backed up their argument.
Republican congressional leadership has consistently opposed lifting the embargo, while Democratic congressional leadership has tried to keep members who disagree on Cuba policy happy.
After historic pro-democracy protests in Cuba on July 11, Murphy and Sires attempted to increase State Department funding for “democracy programs” in Cuba, only to be rebuffed by party leadership.
Demings also announced on Wednesday that she is working on legislation to support internet freedom technologies that allow people in countries like Cuba and Venezuela to circumvent censors.
“We are crafting new legislation to provide surge capacity funding for internet freedom technology that empowers democratic movements to continue their important work,” Demings and Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Rep. William Keating said in a statement. “This technology allows its users cost-free access to social media and other messaging services even during government-controlled internet blackouts.”
The resolution, which does not change U.S. policy toward Cuba, and proposed legislation from Demings come as a coalition of young Cubans, artists and dissidents prepare for an islandwide anti-government demonstration on November 15.
The Cuban government opposes the planned protest and has threatened organizers, with Cuban leader Miguel Díaz Canel charging that the demonstration is a U.S.-backed attempt to sow chaos.
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