restricted access 14 More Blessings of Liberty: The George W. Bush Administration
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We’re the only hope in Cuba. —James Cason, Chief of Mission, Havana, 2005 14 MORE BLESSINGS OF LIBERTY THE GEORGE W. BUSH ADMINISTRATION Sending Elián González back to Cuba with his father had been the right thing to do, Bill Clinton wrote in his memoir, but “I was still concerned that it could cost Al Gore Florida in November.” It probably did. Anyone who had followed Elián’s prolonged ordeal could reasonably conclude that his return had aroused an intense sense of betrayal in Little Havana, and when the dust settled in 2000, the Democrats had lost the state by 537 votes, handing all of Florida’s twenty-five electoral votes to the Republicans and giving George W. Bush the presidency with a five-vote electoral college margin. Fidel Castro attributed the narrow Republican victory to the “decisive role played by the Cuban-American terrorist mafia,” and—wording aside—everyone agreed. If only a handful of Florida’s 800,000 Cuban Americans had chosen Gore rather than Bush, the Democrat would have been moving into the White House.¹ Less certain is whether a few hundred more votes for the Democrats would have led to a different policy toward Cuba, since nothing in the vice president’s record indicated an interest in doing anything different from what George W. Bush was now preparing to do. “The chickens are coming home to roost,” Gore had told Floridians in 1993, just as Cuba’s economy was hitting rock bottom. “There are tremendous opportunities in Cuba if 516 More Blessings of Liberty they can just get rid of this dictator.” He repeated himself on the campaign trail seven years later: “I’m a hardliner on Castro,” he assured an October audience; “I do not favor any opening to the Castro government.”² Bush took an identical position, and his party’s platform adopted what his father and then President Clinton had already turned into a bipartisan Cuba policy: “a continued effort to promote freedom and democracy.”³ President-elect Bush clearly owed a debt to Cuban Americans, and Fidel Castro warned that the island could become the target of “the hatred of the most extremist and reactionary sectors, now euphoric over the ascent to power of a new government to which they maintain such strong ties.”⁴ Strong they were. One immediate payoff was the appointment of several Cuban Americans to Cuba-related posts, with Washington lobbyist Otto Reich nominated to be assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, career diplomat Lino Gutiérrez named Reich’s deputy assistant secretary , army colonel Emilio González given the Caribbean/Central America portfolio on the National Security Council staff, Adolfo Franco named administrator for Latin America of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), and Mauricio Tamargo appointed chair of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. All had migrated to the United States as children or adolescents, as had Mel Martínez, a Pedro Pan who became secretary of housing and urban development, the first Cuban American to hold a cabinet post. All of these men had deep ties to the anti-Castro world—Colonel González spoke for most if not all the appointees when he remarked, “I’m about as involved in South Florida and the Cuban-American community as you can get.”⁵ Reich was the only appointee to provoke a controversy. “I hope that the administration of George W. Bush can find another candidate for this job,” wrote Nobel prize winner Oscar Arias, the former president of Costa Rica. Arias complained that Reich had worked to undermine Central American peace efforts during the Reagan years, when, as director of the State Department ’s scandal-plagued Office of Public Diplomacy, he was repeatedly accused of fabricating administration-friendly news. A subsequent investigation by the comptroller general confirmed that Reich’s office “engaged in prohibited, covert propaganda activities designed to influence the media,” but these were minor peccadilloes when compared to the concurrent Irancontra investigation, and Reich had escaped prosecution.⁶ Saddled with this baggage, Reich now sought Senate confirmation as the new administration’s principal Latin Americanist.The election had left the upper chamber deadlocked, fifty to fifty, with Vice President Richard More Blessings of Liberty 517 Cheney slated to play the role of tiebreaker, but Vermont Republican James Jeffords announced that he would become an independent and vote with the Democrats, and with that Joseph Biden replaced Jesse Helms as chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, while Christopher Dodd, one...


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Cuba.
  • Cuba -- Foreign relations -- United States.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1945-1989.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- 1989-.
  • Presidents -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Cuba -- History -- Revolution, 1959.
  • Cuba -- Politics and government -- 1959-1990.
  • Cuba -- Politics and government -- 1990-.
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