BY ANA MENENDEZ
An open letter to the presidential hopefuls in town this week:Welcome to South Florida and thanks for coming. We hate to start on a downbeat note, but time is short and we have a lot of problems you should know about.
Traffic, as you saw coming from the airport, is a mess. And now the good people who actually take mass transit face huge fare increases.
The state’s budget is in so much trouble that services are being slashed across Florida. We suffer a recurrent disaster called hurricanes. And another called boom-and-bust. We now have the highest number of empty condos anywhere, says a new report by the National Association of Realtors.
All these empty condos, gas at $4 a gallon and our politicians want to trap us deeper in suburbia. They just voted to keep pushing development closer to the Everglades.
EMPHASIS ON CUBA
Like I said, we have a lot of problems. But chances are you’re not here to talk about them. Chances are you’re here to talk about what everyone who wants to get elected comes to Miami to talk about: Cuba. Many have done it before and John McCain tried again Tuesday. Please don’t. Please don’t tell us how strong and brave the exiles are. Please don’t tell us, “Next year in Havana!”
We know Castro is an evil, nasty tyrant. We don’t need you dropping in to tell us. Whatever you do, for the love of God, please do not pick up any maracas. Don’t beat the bongos. Don’t put on a guayabera. Don’t try to dance ‘’salsa” (we prefer son, anyway).
It’s nice that you have Cuban friends. But we don’t want to know about José, who roomed with you in college. Don’t tell us about Pepito, who arrived in Miami with just two quarters in his pocket and a dream of freedom.
McCain, you want to hunt down and try Cuba’s leaders? Illness and old age already beat us to justice. History will beat us to judgment. Don’t tell us any more of what you think we want to hear. We’re weary of promises.
We know about the dissidents, the rafters, the hopelessness, the repression. Even those of us who aren’t Cuban know it better than you. We are married to Cubans, have Cuban in-laws, Cuban employees, Cuban bosses. Don’t tell us. But you can’t help yourselves. Something about South Florida — maybe it’s the weather, the accents, the sheer proximity — prompts even the best among us to lapse into Cuba talk.
So if you must talk about Cuba, tell us something new. We all want elections and democracy. But even the most hard-line among us secretly acknowledge that our policies of confrontation have won nothing.
Start small. Start with the Bush travel restrictions. Stand up at that dinner or lunch that you won’t touch and say: ”When I’m elected, the first thing I’ll do is allow Cuban Americans to travel to the island. No restrictions, no conditions.” Your voice rising, say: “I will restore what no politician has the moral authority to take away: your right to set foot in your homeland; your right to give solace to your family; your right to hold your children, comfort your sick and bury your dead.”
You’ll be OK. Poll after poll says most Cuban Americans favor lifting the restrictions. And a group of exiles just filed suit in Vermont contesting the 2004 order.
This is your chance. If you must talk about Cuba, please spare us the condescending rhetoric. Then forget Havana and try addressing our more immediate problems here. Yes, even Cuban Americans worry about this country.
Surprise us. We may just end up surprising you.