Sunday, July 17, 2011

Right wing pol takes aim at reunification of Cuban families

By Albor Ruiz 

Sunday New York Daily News, July 17, 2011 at 9:11am

"He won't getaway with it," said Isabel Alfonso, a Cuban-born literature professor, composer and singer who lives in Jackson Heights, Queens. "Who does he think he is?"

Alfonso's rage was directed at Rep. Mario Díaz Balart, a right-wing Cuban-American Republican. Last month, he attached an amendment - approved by the House Appropriations Committee - to the Financial Services Appropriations bill aiming to rescind President Obama's 2009 changes to Cuban-American family travel and remittances rules.

If the bill passes, Cuban-Americans would be pushed back to George W. Bush's dark ages, when they were allowed to visit their families in Cuba once every three years with no humanitarian exceptions. The definition of family would be limited, and the amount of money they could send to the island would be capped.

"This is Tía Isabel," said Alfonso pointing to a photo of a sweet-looking lady sitting on a rocking chair in her Havana living room. Alfonso, who teaches at St. Joseph's College on Long Island, has taken six trips to see her elderly aunt since 1995 - the year she moved to the U.S.

"Last time was in June. I would've gone more often, but Bush's absurd restrictions made it impossible." And she added: "No Cuban-American politician is going to stop me from seeing her."

Fortunately, it is unlikely that Díaz Balart, who would like nothing more than to make it illegal for Alfonso to visit her aunt, will get his wish. Even if the bill, as it stands, passes a House vote and gets through the Senate, the White House has vowed to veto it.

Last Wednesday, the Obama administration made it clear it will not allow Díaz Balart and his ilk to roll over their Cuba policy.

"This section would undo the President's efforts to increase contact between divided Cuban families, undermine the enhancement of the Cuban people's economic independence and support for private sector activity in Cuba that come from increased remittances from family members, and therefore isolate the Cuban people and make them more dependent on Cuban authorities," the White House said.

It appears Díaz Balart, who has made a career of supporting every measure to punish the Cuban people on both sides of the Florida Strait, has grossly miscalculated. Last year almost 400,000 Cuban-Americans visited their native country, many of them Díaz-Balart's constituents.

Whatever their feelings might be about the Havana government, they want to travel to Cuba to embrace loved ones and make their lives easier. They are certain not to appreciate their representative's efforts to criminalize family visits and remittances.

To answer Alfonso's question: it's easy to know who Díaz Balart really is.
Although he sells himself in Miami as Cuban to win votes, the Fort Lauderdale-born son of Cuban parents has never set foot on the island.

Díaz Balart doesn't have relatives in Cuba, which makes it easy for him to erect himself as some sort of deity - a very minor one for sure - that pretends to redefine the Cuban family by leaving aunts, uncles and cousins out, and to decide who can travel to their native country and when.

For whatever obscure reasons, Díaz Balart - who, unlike Cubans on the island, lives a very comfortable life - keeps doing his best to make sure the hardships of the Cuban people he says he wants to help are not alleviated by any means.

"The time has come for Cuban Americans to vote Díaz Balart, Sen. Bob Menéndez [D-N.J.], [Rep.] Ros-Lehtinen [R-Fla.] and others like them out of office," Alfonso said. "How much longer are we going to keep rewarding those who profit from our pain?"

Or as we say in New York, it's high time to throw the bums out."

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