Dear Mr. Portes:
I have read a paper which you authored entitled The Cuban-American Machine: reflections on its origins and perpetuation. I received the paper from a friend with whom I agree very little when it comes to U.S./Cuba relations.
Honestly, I am pretty astounded by your arguments. The paper begins by trying to explain the success of Cuban politicians in local elections. You attribute the start of Cuban dominance in local politics to a backlash against the English-only referendum. Surely that was an explosive issue, but demographics not one episode of perceived bigotry are responsible for the election of Cuban-Americans to important political posts in South Florida. A Cuban dominated political district is more than likely going to be represented by a Cuban. Is this not true of any neighborhood in the country, whether it be white, black, elderly Jewish, or Mexican?
You cite the fact that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart are repeatedly re-elected without credible opposition, as if they obtained and retain their positions in a sinister way. Do you know how many times Claude Pepper was re-elected without credible opposition? Well it was more than 10 times. In fact, the re-election rate for all congresspersons is higher than 90%, mostly without credible opposition.
You say policies designed to reassert the hegemony of the dominant group in any community inevitably trigger reactive mobilizations by the excluded. For the most part these mobilizations are ineffective because of lack of resources. I have a couple of problems with this. First of all the hegemony of the dominant group in Miami was waning because of numbers not dollars. Votes not resources win elections. I do not believe there was/is a conspiracy to ouster the Anglo politicians in grab for political power as it seems you are alleging. Rather it was a natural progression of increasing political power by a growing population within a certain area.
You say that the political outlook of the Miami Cuban establishment is widely regarded as extreme and out of touch with post-cold war realities. I ask you by whom? The answer is obviously liberal elites who do not agree with the hard line policies, or otherwise by people who are unfamiliar with the issues surrounding Castro's Cuba. If Hitler had called a ceasefire before the total collapse of his army and retained power for 40 years would you tell his Jewish opponents that they should be less intransigent in their views on U.S./German relations? That their opinions are out of touch with postwar realities? Would you tell their children that they should not feel the resentment as deeply as their parents who experienced the pain first hand? I have been told that the Castro/Hitler parallel is old and irrelevant. I would like to know why. Perhaps Hitler's circle of hell will be lower than Castro's but only by degrees. One imposed misery and death on millions while the other did it only on thousands.
If it is true, as you assert, that public opinion polls consistently place Cubans as one of the least liked groups by the rest of the U.S. population, I would expect that it has little to do with our stance on U.S./Cuba relations which affects very few, if any, of them. I suspect it has to with xenophobia, jealousy and ignorance. Probably right at the top of the list along with Cubans are Jews, for the same reasons. In any case it would have been nice for you to cite exactly which surveys you were talking about.
The legitimacy paradox is what I always here from my friend and others like him. That Castro is in power because of policies perpetuated by the U.S. that his government retains legitimacy because he can always vilify the U.S. This is absurd. It is the equivalent of blaming the victim. The Cuban people submit to Castro because of fear and intimidation, most do not buy his speeches about Yankee aggression. Castro's power is derived from his ability to distribute goods and services to the people. He is a caudillo. Lowering trade restrictions only gives him more spoils to distribute. Can you deny that the only liberalization of the Cuban economy came on the heels of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, when resources were scarce?
What really amazes me is the way you generalize about Cuban politicians. Surely there have been a fair share of corrupt Cuban politicians but to imply that it was Cubans who turned Miami into a banana republic is just plain false. There were not any Cubans in prominent political offices when Johnny Jones, the black school board commissioner used public funds to fixture his bathrooms with gold hardware. You give the example of Hialeah's mayor Raul Martinez as someone who was convicted and returned to office. You fail to mention that he won his appeal and the charges against him were eventually dropped. Take the case of Alcee Hastings a black federal judge that was impeached in 1988 and convicted of conspiracy to accept a bribe and perjury and removed from the bench in 1989. He now serves in U.S. House of Representatives. It seems that Cubans are not the only people who will give disgraced politicians a second chance. Here are a few more non-Hispanic politicians in south Florida that have been found to be corrupt.
You mention the case of Xavier Suarez (you mistakenly call him Juarez in your paper) and how his election as Mayor of Miami was overturned because of voter fraud. You fail to mention that he was never charged in the case or that he was more than Harvard graduate, he was previously the Mayor of Miami.
You assert that any a Cuban politician who expresses minimal doubt about the rightness of the hard line position signs his own political death warrant. You give an anecdote which I assume is supposed be amusing about old ladies saying that candidate is soft on communism. Do you mean to tell me that litmus test issues do not exist for other groups? That the Jews do not use Israel as their personal litmus test? The same for blacks and affirmative action? Mexicans and immigration?
I love the way you throw the term right-wing extremism around. I have never heard an Ivy league liberal elite use the expression left wing extremist. Intransigent is also a word you lefties love to use. Intransigent means uncompromising, unbending. Let me ask you philosophical question. If you know you are right, you have no doubt about it, why would you ever compromise or bend? There are certain issues that cannot be compromised. If you believe that life begins at conception you cannot negotiate or compromise. If you believe in equal rights for all Americans you cannot compromise. If you believe doing business with Castro can only help him and his corrupt regime, you cannot compromise. Opponents on the other side of these issues would very much like to compromise. This is the type of reasoning that led to the policy of appeasement before WWII.
I really resent the fact that you think people like me have an impoverished unnuanced view of the world. It is easy to make such generalizations from your ivy tower in New Jersey.
Let me ask you what is wrong with opposing loudly and publicly anyone voicing sympathies for the Cuban regime. I thought this was a free country. I have been on the other end of that when I was shouted down and spat upon when I began to ask some obvious questions after a screening of a Cuban propaganda film at the University of Florida when I was a student there.
Your document is filled with broad generalizations backed up with anecdotes, hardly an empirical work. You cite another work, which you wrote as a source yet you do not acknowledge the person who is supposedly quoted in that source. I would expect more documentation from a professor at Princeton.
You describe public rituals as if Cubans were part of a cult. Aren't there similar rituals and landmarks in New York, Alabama, and Pennsylvania? Tell me a place where there are no public rituals. You cite the Elian Gonzales incident as one where Cubans sought to paralyze the harbor and airport with complete disregard for the wishes of non-Cuban inhabitants of the city. Sometimes civil disobedience is messy and goes against the wishes of others. Rosa Parks and the demonstrations she sparked are a perfect example. She was right and the other non-black inhabitants of the city were wrong. She was intransigent in her decision to keep her seat on the bus and she was right. What if she had compromised?
You cite an unnamed Cuban leader who called for a boycott of Mexico because of the recent episode at the Mexican embassy in Havana. You do not comment but your contempt is obvious. Didn't human rights activists in America call for a boycott of South Africa in order to end apartheid? Doesn't Jesse Jackson call for boycotts of corporations that do not meet his standards for diversity? Is a boycott unacceptable now because Cubans seek to use it for their political ends that do not coincide with yours?
You end your piece asserting again that the tragic situation in Cuba is at least partially the fault of the Cuban exile community in the U.S. There is no polite way to say this. That is the most ignorant thing I have ever heard. Castro is the problem. When he is dead and gone Cuba will be well on its way to recovery as long as another caudillo does not take his place. Cuba needs a democratic process not another leader propped up by a cult of personality.