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How Castro and Chavez lost the 2010 elections

By Jackson Diehl

Lots of foreign leaders have reason to regret the outcome of the U.S. midterm elections, from the Norweigan Nobel peace prize committee to Russia's Dmitry Medvedev. But if there is one big un-American loser from Tuesday's vote, it's got to be Raul Castro.

For months the Cuban dictator and his semi-retired brother Fidel have been waging a charm offensive aimed at the Obama administration and Congress. They've sent some political prisoners into exile; invited American journalists to Havana; and encouraged Cuba's Roman Catholic cardinal to lobby for them in Washington. Fidel even denounced anti-semitism.

Their purpose has been obvious: to obtain the easing of U.S. sanctions on Cuba at a time when the country's economy is desperately in need of help. In particular, the Castros have been hoping for a lifting of the ban on American tourist travel -- something that they calculate could bring in a flood of U.S. beach visitors and hard currency. Legislation to do just that has been pending in Congress.

Republican gains in the House of Representatives, and Marco Rubio's election as Florida's next Republican senator, almost certainly mean the Castros won't get their wish.

Rubio, the son of refugees from Cuba, promised in his moving victory speech never to forget the exile community he comes from. That probably means that any pro-Castro measure is going to need 60 votes to pass the U.S. Senate.

More importantly, the House Foreign Affairs Committee under Republican rule is likely to be chaired by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a champion of Cuban human rights who was born in Havana. The outgoing chairman, Democrat Howard Berman, decided in September to put off a vote on the bill lifting the travel ban. Under Ros-Lehtinen's leadership, it will almost certainly be buried for good.

The bad news for the Latin left doesn't end there. Ros-Lehtinen has been an outspoken critic of Venezuelan caudillo Hugo Chavez and allies like Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and Bolivia's Evo Morales. Attempts by the Obama administration to "reset" relations with Chavez and Morales are likely to come under critical scrutiny by the new Foreign Affairs leader.

Meanwhile, some stalwart friends are departing. Foreign Affairs member Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), who has been one of Congress's biggest apologists for Chavez, is retiring. So is Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, a favorite of the Latin left for three decades, who defended Chavez early in his tenure and has been a consistent critic of rival, democratic government of Colombia. Thanks to the congressional shift, Colombia's chance of winning ratification of a free trade agreement with the United States have improved considerably.

The bad news in Washington compounds what has been a months-long losing streak for Chavez, the Castros and their chums. Both Cuba and Venezuela are sinking economically, even as the rest of the region is growing strongly out of the recession. Chavez lost the popular vote and dozens of seats in his own Congress in an election last month. Last week brought the sudden death of former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner, a close ally. And Brazil's presidential election last Sunday replaced the charismatic Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva with a charmless technocrat who is unlikely to fill Lula's role as a regional leader.

The much-celebrated surge of the Latin left has been dimming for some time. The new political balance in Washington will ensure that the United States does not recharge it.

By Jackson Diehl  | November 4, 2010; 10:32 AM ET
Categories:  Diehl  | Tags:  Jackson Diehl  
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Comments

I believe we are making a mistake to continue the embargo against Castro. If we had US tourism in that country socialism in Cuba as we know it would collapse. On the other hand I believe we need to get tough with Chavez and Morales. These turkeys are dictators of the worse sort and it boggles the mind that Obama and Dodd and Company supported these tyrants over our allies in the region.

Posted by: jkk1943 | November 4, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Thanks to the congressional shift, Colombia's chance of winning ratification of a free trade agreement with the United States have improved considerably.

= = = = = = = =

That is excellent news. More free trade agreements will help improve the economy considerably.

.

Posted by: ZZim | November 4, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

The Socialist Dictators of Latin America always have the idiot elites of Hollywood to support them. Oliver Stone and Sean Penn are always glad to help in the oppression of people in Latin America. I still can't understand why they don't move there.

Posted by: bobbo2 | November 4, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Chavez is not a caudillo. He is the democratically elected president of Venezuela. Diehl is too much of an imperialist to know the difference.

Posted by: geezjan | November 4, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

A temporary setback for the South American left, including Cuba, isn't necessarily bad for them.
It just forces them to become more economically and socially imaginative -- reducing whatever corruption they suffer -- in preparation for the day when the second and more serious foot of the global recession hits; something that will they will barely notice compared to the rest of us.
Meanwhile, the GOP has served notice that it wants to restore America's corporate operating rules to what they were in the days and months before Mr. Obama took office -- the same rules that almost caused a worldwide depression except for the Obama trillion-plus infusion of tax dollars to temporarily bail out very large investors.
Meanwhile, the global environment continues to deteriorate as the world population (seven billion people compared to 2.5 billion at the time JFK died) expands in size and wealth which, unfortunately, simply speeds the destruction which politicians worldwide choose to ignore because the only answer is for the well off like us to substantially shrink our consumer appetite for useless junk that barely survives the length of time it takes us to pay for it.

Posted by: Rudy7 | November 4, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Rudy7, me, is Rudy Haugeneder
Victoria, BC, Canada.
Enjoy.

Posted by: Rudy7 | November 4, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse


My parents were refugees from Poland. I lived with that and honestly, I don't understand one bit of this "tough guy" act that Cuban exiles continue to put on.

Unless it's because they think they can make money with it.

Posted by: tony_in_Durham_NC | November 4, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

The unstated but clear implication of Diehl's post that the congressional Republicans will ride to rescue the world from Obama/Democratic policies that somehow favor coddling of US enemies could not be more wrong.

The economic boycott of Cuba has been in effect for 50 YEARS, more or less exactly as long as the Castro regime it has been designed to overthrow. Hard to see the policy as a resounding success, or Obama's very tentative moves towards relaxing it as a sellout of either US interests or the interests in freedom and economic development of the Cuban people themselves, even if right wing Cuban exiles view it that way. Rubio/Ros-Lehtinen's voices are not the only ones in the exile community, and are not in the least representative of those on the island itself.

As for Hugo Chavez: who in the American political spectrum supports him? And how much more effective against him was "hard" Bush neocon opposition than Obama's policy which basically ignores him and lets him stew in his domestic juices?

Finally Brazil and Argentina: both, prticularly Brazil are feeling their oats as their economies soar and the United States economy declines. Nothing that Republican congressional right-wingers can say or do will change this dynamic after Lula's retirement and Kirchner's death. It is not as if there is an over-flowing reservoir of good-will for US regional overlordship waiting to be released after leadership transition.

I have been following Diehl's journalism since Yale Daily News. His seeming descent into neo-conservative dogmatism, apparent in this column and those on Middle East, have been disappointing to watch.

Posted by: martinweil | November 4, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

This embargo is an idiotic leftover of the "cold" war. I also came from a former 'communist' country and I can tell, being able to talk to, listen to western 'tourists' helped us shaping our views on the world and helped us kicking the communists out – from within with ‘educated’ resistance. Probably, only the Cuban exiles want to maintain the current situation, otherwise they would need to return to their beloved country. At least, in the US they still can parade around as victims of the Castro Regime and pretend they have some political power. In reality, they are just useful tools of politicians.

Posted by: rothd1965 | November 4, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I saw Rubio's acceptance speech. He kept refering to himself and the Cuban community as exiles, very little mention about being an American. As if America is some sort of way station till the Castro's die off and they return. Even the illegal Mexicans where I live in NYC have a deeper sense of patriotism. Sad

Posted by: MerrillFrank | November 4, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

"any pro-Castro measure"

So presumably Nixon going to China was "pro-Mao," and PNTR with China is "pro-Communist China," and selling arms to Saudi Arabia is "pro-sharia"? Or not. You're just reverting to emotionalism because there is no rational defense of your views.

You are a propagandist. You would never be hired by any organization that valued responsible journalism as we've traditionally viewed it in the USA.

Posted by: eelvisberg | November 4, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Both republicans and liberals are being spied by Hugo Chavez... here the evidence
http://sites.google.com/site/whoisspying/home

Posted by: testbo | November 4, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

What a wonderful work of fiction.

1 Chavez did not stand in 2010 - the elections were not for president
2 Chavez's PSUV won the majority of seats
3 Chavez's party won more votes than the Right wing alliance
4 if you add the Communist Party to the number of PSUV votes > half votes.

Posted by: lukeweyland | November 4, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

What a wonderful work of fiction!
neither Castro nor Chavez stood for office!

Posted by: lukeweyland | November 4, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

The embargo of Cuba is immoral, undemocratic and contrary to the the claimed principles of capitalism. It undermines the stature of the United States and does serious harm to the People of Cuba.

HJBoitel

Posted by: HJBoitel | November 4, 2010 11:12 PM | Report abuse

I find Marco Rubio somewhat hypocritical. Refugees from Cuba don't file a request for immigration to America, await proper documentation, and then enter America legally. As a result I tend to think some of his positions are not based in his own truth.

I haven't heard a lot of the negative retoric from Castro as I have from Chavez; so I would not be offended if the embargo on Cuba was eased. I feel that Chavez has tried to manipulate the situation at times and so I don't trust his intentions. I think he tried to buy goodwill by offering poor Americans reduced natural gas prices in winter.

Posted by: whiteha1 | November 5, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

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