by Ann Louise Bardach
October 30, 2008 | 8:32pm
The fate of the U.S. Embargo of Cuba rests on down and dirty campaigns in South Florida
I have been covering the nexus of
I have reported on how this battleground has changed—from the mid 1970s, when bombs went off sometimes daily in Miami, to the post-9/11 era, when violence was shuttled to the side in deference to the ballot box.
This election is the end game: on November 4 the fate of the US Embargo against Cuba will likely be decided by the outcome presidential race, along with the political future of its most ardent champions, two members of Congress who also happen to be nephews of Fidel Castro: Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart.
The stakes are huge and the campaign is as down and dirty as any in
Dade and Broward counties, which include
Barack Obama has said that he is open to diplomacy with
The Cuban-American community has undergone dramatic changes, with the majority now backing dialogue with
Determined to maintain their power, the Diaz-Balarts have aired a series of ferocious attacks against their opponents. Last week, a voting scam was uncovered that threatens to end up in the courts, joining a long list of incidents that have made
"I don't think any other place in the
Two weeks ago, after absentee ballots arrived in the mail, a gentleman calling himself “Juan” visited several supporters of Raul Martinez, the Democratic former mayor of Hialeah who is challenging Lincoln Diaz-Balart. “Juan” offered the voters assistance in filling out their ballots, which he then promised to deliver to the elections office. “Juan” had been dispatched to pro-Martinez household by callers claiming to work for
The Miami Herald traced the phone number given to the duped residents to a consultant who works for Diaz-Balart. One duped voter summoned Jeff Garcia, the campaign manager for
Jeff Garcia then delivered affidavits from the misled voters to the State Attorney’s office. But those wise in the ways of
State Attorney Kathy Fernandez Rundle has been famously lax about enforcement, although following local media coverage, she has become more engaged. Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s spokesman told me that the fraud allegation is “a ludicrous charge coming from a desperate campaign.”
The “Juan/Angel” saga caps a long list of election funny business in
- In 1998 the election of
’s Republican mayor, Xavier Suarez was overthrown by the courts for an array of irregularities. For example, a certain Manuel Yip had died in 1994, yet voted absentee every year thereafter. The presiding judge also ruled that some 5,000 absentee ballots were fraudulent. One Miami vegetable peddler had witnessed more than 70 absentee ballots while some of the city's poorest had been paid $10 to vote for Suarez. Miami
- In 2002, while chair of
’s House Redistricting Committee, Mario Diaz-Balart, in one of the great gerrymandering triumphs in recent memory, carved out a congressional district tailor made for himself. Then he stepped in and won. Florida
- In 2004, absentee ballots were reportedly sold on Little Havana's Calle Ocho for $25 apiece.
Democrats are mindful and have turned out a small army in
They will need every cent as the Diaz-Balarts are using all the weapons in their considerable arsenal. “They will have to be crow-barred out of here,” says Democratic rival Joe Garcia.
But the playing field is hardly level. Radio Mambi, which claims to be number one in the Spanish-language radio market in
“That’s three shows a day that Ninoska has to campaign against me,” complains
Once a rock-solid GOP constituency, the Cuban-American community has splintered. John McCain (and the Diaz-Balarts) will carry the majority of first-wave exiles--about 300,000 older, whiter Cubans known as el exilio historico, who arrived in the early 1960s. But even hardliners on
Another slice of el exilio historico will not be voting for Obama because of his skin color, usually indicated in
Still pollster Sergio Bendixen doesn’t think racism is as strong a factor in la comunidad as it once may have been. The majority of Cuban-Americans in
Polls at press time have Obama leading McCain in
The Diaz-Balarts, both in squeaker races, are fighting for their political lives. One ad put up by Lincoln Diaz-Balart begins with a mug shot of
Raul Martinez has responded with his own blitz of commercials charging Diaz-Balart with, among other things, accepting money from an indicted Puerto Rican politician, which has been vehemently denied by Diaz-Balart.
Joe Garcia, formerly Dade’s Democratic Party chair, was also a past Executive Director of the Cuban-American National Foundation. Once a hardline exile organization, CANF has shifted towards the political center and has endorsed Barack Obama. Mario Diaz-Balart's ads tie Garcia to the collapse of Enron and other misdeeds. “You can still do the Big Lie in
While the economy remains the central issue in
To that end, he has produced the most talked about ad in
Then the message appears on screen: “This November ... Let’s end the family circus. Vote against Fidel’s nephews.
Copyright 2008 The Daily Beast