As is the case with many of the Obama administration's accomplishments during its first year, advancements in relations between the US and Cuba have been subtle. Yet small changes in policy may mean bigger shifts in behavior, especially when it comes to Cuban-Americans and the voting booth.
Bloggers in Miami and Cuba are buzzing over the news that US Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart will not run for reelection in the fall. Diaz-Balart, a Republican, is a staunch supporter of the trade embargo against Cuba, and he took his resignation speech as an opportunity to highlight his role in codifying the blockade. As a senior member of the House Rules Committee, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Legislative and Budget Process, and the Co-Chairman of the Florida Congressional Delegation, Diaz-Balart's absence will definitely be felt.
In an excellent write up of what's been reported so far about Diaz-Balart's district (the 21st), Blue in Miami notes that the retiring Congressman's brother will most likely leave his own House seat–representing the 25th–to run for the vacated spot. “I used to think it was natural to run for re-election in the district you already represent, especially if you're running unopposed, but I guess that's not true if your poll numbers are slipping,” they write.
The 21st is seen as a more favorable district for Republicans than the 25th. But Blue in Miami says that there is a definite opportunity for Democrats to pick up both seats.
“Demographically, this district is no longer safe for Republicans,” writes Down With Tyranny. And Reuters quotes a Cuban-American businessman as saying: “There are a significant amount of Cuban Americans who are voting with their feet,” in reference to the effects that the recent easing of travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans who wish to visit the island may be having on their politics.
The blogosphere is definitely interpreting this event as a sign of the political winds. One commenter at Penultimos Dias says:
“Jamás comprendí por qué necesitábamos dos Díaz-Balart en el Congreso
“I never understood why we needed two Diaz-Balarts in Congress.”
And Havana Times paints the news as a sign of just how retrograde the embargo is, writing: “The US economic blockade on Cuba has lasted about a half century and one of its biggest supporters, Miami Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, threw in the towel on Thursday.”
There's no way to know for sure if the small steps taken by the Obama administration is making Cuban-Americans rethink their stance on the blockade, but it will be interesting to watch these races for any sign of a leftward shift in the Cuban emigre portion of the electorate.