Posted on Tuesday, 10.15.13
Dalliance with Cuba a bad deal for Key West
BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO
The idea of quaint, historical Key West becoming best buddies with the
dictator next door is repulsive.
Talk about a political hot potato.
A lot is at stake in the misguided dalliance of Key West politicians
with high-ranking diplomatic representatives of the repressive Cuban regime.
We’re not talking about fisherman-to-fisherman contact here, but about
the Castros’ goons coming to play in Key West.
The city can’t engage in cocktail party pleasantries and hypocritical
wreath-laying ceremonies with officials whose government brutally beats
up and detains peaceful women and dissidents — and get away with its
paradisiacal image intact.
So it’s a good thing that the Key West City Commission’s short-sighted
dive into heavyweight foreign relations — voting to host the head of the
Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C. and the diplomatic mission’s
first secretary and stage a flurry of events in their “honor” — was
aborted this week.
It might have all gone ahead if Commissioner Tony “Fat” Yaniz had not
demanded a reception be held honoring the diplomats at the San Carlos
Institute, a historic Duval Street building where Jose Martí spoke on
behalf of independence from Spain in the 1800s, and that, technically,
belongs to the Cuban government.
The decaying building was rescued in 1985 by Miami lawyer Rafael
Peñalver, who fought for legal stewardship and won. With the help of a
volunteer board culled from the Keys and Miami communities, Peñalver
restored the gorgeous space, and for 20 some years, the San Carlos has
been operating as a lively cultural center, hosting among other
educational activities the Key West Literary Festival.
Not that it has been a smooth project. Pro-Cuban government activists
have tried to take over the San Carlos post-restoration. One of the
exiles who fought off a rowdy crowd, Armando Alejandre Jr., ended up
being one of the Brothers to the Rescue men shot down and killed by
Cuban government fighter jets while flying over international waters.
So imagine the consternation Yaniz — with the backing of Democratic
Congressman Joe Garcia — caused when he asked that the red carpet be
rolled out at the San Carlos for the Cuban diplomats.
Peñalver told Yaniz he couldn’t keep anyone from visiting the San
Carlos, but the diplomats were sure to be received as personae non
grata. When that didn’t sway Yaniz, the San Carlos board penned and
distributed a lengthy open letter to the Key West community that
eloquently expressed why it’s so morally wrong, not to mention bad
business, for the Keys to befriend oppressors.
“It is shameful that anyone in the Key West business community would
extend a welcome mat or shake the bloody hands of Castro’s
representatives,” the letter says. Their uproar nixed the plans — this time.
Yaniz reacted by talking tough — not to the oppressors he’s courting but
to the regime’s victims: Cuban-Americans.
“Cold War dinosaurs,” he called us.
Some of us, however, would rather be a dinosaur than a weasel.
Getting in bed with an aging dictatorship when its bravest citizens are
fighting for change is the last thing a storied place like Key West needs.
People drive to Mile Marker 0 to get away from it all. People flock to
the San Carlos to revel in history and heritage. The humblest of people
have arrived in these shores seeking refuge.
How unwise it is for Key West to pick a fight with friends, to replace
the Jimmy Buffett vibe with Raúl Castro’s ugly fare.
There goes laid-back, high-occupancy Margaritaville. There goes the
nibbling-on-key-lime-pie charm, the strumming the six-string persona the
world knows and loves.
All for the sake of the narrow business interests of people who think
they can profit from cosmetic changes in Cuba they perceive as a lasting
“An open Cuba is not a free Cuba,” Peñalver told me Tuesday.
In the opportunistic alliance with today’s Cuba, Key West has a lot to lose.
Source: “Fabiola Santiago: Dalliance with Cuba a bad deal for Key West –
Fabiola Santiago – MiamiHerald.com” –