How Castro and Chavez lost the 2010 elections
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.
| November 4, 2010; 10:32 AM ET
Categories: Diehl | Tags: Jackson Diehl
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