Former Gov. Charlie Crist's call to end the Cuba embargo and his interest in visiting the country are important milestones. They reflect Crist's transformation from a Republican incumbent who supported the embargo to a Democratic candidate for governor who wants to end it. And they illustrate how far Florida and the nation have come in recognizing the failure of isolationism and the economic, cultural and political benefits of a more rational Cuba policy. Gov. Rick Scott and other Republicans who quickly criticized Crist as a pawn of communism are out of touch, out of date and out of new ideas.
The news that Crist is exploring a trip to Cuba this summer came after his appearance this week at the Versailles Restaurant in Miami's Little Havana. At the emigre landmark, he built on comments he has made in recent months and called for lifting the embargo. Critics say it is another flip-flop by the former governor, but it is helpful to be able to recognize when circumstances have changed and old views are no longer defensible. Crist now says that normalizing relations is the best way to promote democracy and human rights on the island while creating a new market for American business. He is right about the politics and the impact that trade can have on bilateral relations. And his views speak to the interest by Cuban-Americans in reconnecting with family by taking advantage of a looser federal travel ban.
Scott, seeking support among hard-liners in the exile community, calls the embargo a tool for Cuban freedom. But the embargo has not dislodged the Castro brothers, inspired a popular revolt, curbed Cuba's adventurism in Latin America or brought the world together in ostracizing the Havana government. It has increased the daily hardships of Cuban families struggling to survive, and it has limited opportunities for their Florida relatives to help and for American companies to invest.
Recent polls show a majority of Floridians, including Cuban-Americans, support normalizing relations and lifting travel with the communist-run island. Earlier this year, Cuban exile and sugar tycoon Alfonso Fanjul expressed his openness to reinvesting in Cuba. This was a dramatic shift for one of the oldest and most respected leaders of the exile community, whose family was forced from Cuba by the Castro regime. The list of officeholders and business leaders from Tampa Bay who have traveled to Cuba in recent years grows almost by the day. It includes U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and her predecessor, Jim Davis; a former mayor; members of the Tampa City Council; and the heads of business groups, the University of South Florida and Tampa International Airport.
Crist is the highest-profile Florida politician to embrace a change in attitude toward Cuba. That speaks to the wishes of Cuban-Americans, businesses and those promoting democracy who see the trade and travel bans for what they are: tired political gimmicks that hurt the Cuban people more than the government.
Since direct flights resumed in 2011, more than 100,000 passengers have traveled from Tampa to Cuba. Port, tourism and business leaders say normalizing relations would bring new trade to a state with deep cultural connections to Cuba. By moving to the correct side of this issue, Crist is better positioned to help shape the future. Other politicians who want to play a constructive role in influencing Cuba policy and prepare the state to benefit from increased ties to the island should be moving in the same direction.