By José Manuel Palli, Esq.
The economy — jobs, to be precise — is likely to be the defining issue in the coming presidential election. At least in every other state in our Union, that is. Florida, as usual, is again staking its long-standing claim to exceptionalism.
In Florida, we are focused on turning business and jobs away, for the sake of upholding our principles, or at least those of the elected officials who claim to represent us all. Principles like those which led our state legislature and our governor to come up with House Bill 959, yet another misguided incursion into the realm of foreign policy, constitutionally barred to any and every state government, no matter the composition of their population when it comes to national origin. Just what we all needed: A new pose to go after those outlaws who do business with Cuba. But this is Florida, and rules are different here.
And it gets even more confusing when you realize that the same governor who signed this bill — approved unanimously by our pathetic lawmakers in Tallahassee — aimed at the heart of a particular Brazilian engineering company that dares to do business with both, Cuba and Florida, recently led a delegation to BrasÌlia seeking to increase the flow of business between Florida and Brazil. No wonder he tried to downplay the significance of the law while, nonetheless, signing it.
I used to travel frequently to Orange County, California, one of the most affluent counties — and arguably one of the most conservative too — in the nation. Apparently, there are not many Cubans in Orange County, or my clients and acquaintances there don’t know any, if there are. But for years, whenever I set foot there, I have been bombarded with questions about those crazy Cubans who run Miami, at first — in the mid-80s — with a certain degree of empathy, and even admiration, which made it rather easy for me to explain the valid reasons behind the strong emotions on which the Cuban causa was rooted. But later, especially after the Elián zarzuela, their level of empathy with our cause began turning into derision. And a few days ago, when I visited them after a long absence, I found it had turned into hostility.
Bear in mind these friends of mine are hard-core conservatives. The first time I heard of Rush Limbaugh was when a couple of friends from Newport Beach insisted I should accompany them to a taping of Rush’s TV show, while in New York City years ago — I have said my deserved allotment of Our Fathers and Hail Marys, I promise.
As a lawyer, how can I defend before them the enactment of “junk laws” that add nothing but bulk to our legal system — eroding people’s respect towards other sensible laws as all laws that are not enforced tend to do.
Or, as they asked repeatedly, how can a few voters in South Florida force the nation to turn its back on all other nations in our hemisphere, throwing away years of leadership and influence. And these conversations took place without any awareness on their part — or my own, and what a balsam for one’s mental health it is to take distance, if only for a few days, from South Florida — of the intentional fire in Coral Gables that casually burned down one of those businesses that dare to do business with Cuba. Nor of the clownish clumsiness surrounding the signing, disavowing, and re-assertion of the “Odebrecht law” by our gawky governor.
I also had to take my turn at bat on the Ozzie issue, of course, but that is just like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, preceding the main feature. Trouble is, our main feature has turned into an ever more sad cartoon, in the eyes of so many of our fellow citizens nationwide. I have always felt that Cuba’s problems are for Cubans to solve. But for those who may be counting on a little help from our friends: beware, we are running out of them.
And there is an easy way to gauge the validity of what I’m saying: let us put U.S.-Cuba policy — the real one, not Florida’s Groucho-style version — to a vote, even if a symbolic one. In this age of hyper-moneyed “single-issue” politics, representative democracy plainly does not work as it should, and Cuba policy is but one example — although a very vivid one, for us Cubans at least. I, personally, will not vote against my present Congresswoman just because I disagree with her on Cuba policy — having, as I have, other good reasons to vote for her — but my views on this issue, and those of every other single American voter with one, are entitled to a hearing from her.
José Manuel Palli is a Cuban-born lawyer, originally trained as such in Argentina and a member of the Florida Bar since 1985