Mitch Perry Report for 12.18.14 – Your move now, Raul

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The term “game-changer” was expressed often during the 90-minute press event that developer Jeff Vinik presented yesterday regarding his plans to revitalize a major part of downtown Tampa. But the true potential game-changer yesterday was President Obama’s announcement regarding a change in policies with Cuba, which has profound implications for both countries.

Predictably, reactions were widely varying; critics like Marco Rubio bashed the president, while supporters like Kathy Castor extolled the virtues of the move.

The fact is we simply don’t know how this is going to play out — because the thing that truly matters is if it improves the daily lives of the Cuban people, who are living in the definition of a third-world nation.

In an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, Rubio writes that, “Mr. Obama’s new Cuba policy is a victory for oppressive governments the world over and will have real, negative consequences for the American people.”

The riposte comes from Congresswoman Kathy Castor, who simply says, “Vietnam.”

Yes, advocates for a more liberalized relationship with the Communist island for years have invoked Vietnam and China as two examples of where this country has had serious policy disagreements with another nation but found a way to reestablish relations with them. China has not been a total success. That government is still one of the worst in the world in terms of human rights. Back in the 1990s, the Bush and Clinton administrations referred to “constructive engagement” as their policy tool that would push China to improve the way they treated their own people. It arguably did not work, but nobody would argue that we shouldn’t have relations with that behemoth of a nation, would we?

More than 55,000 Americans died in the war in Vietnam in the 1960s and ’70s. Yet we now have reestablished trade relations with that Southeast nation.

If we can have relations with them, why not Cuba?

One of the policy changes that will now happen is that Secretary of State John Kerry will begin examining whether Cuba should be on the list of countries supporting terrorism. Advocates for better relations say that Cuba should never have been put on that list, and it will certainly free up banks being able to provide credit there if that designation goes away.

Again, the bottom line is that we don’t know today if the liberalized policies will bring about a true change in how the Raul Castro-led government treats its citizens. But anybody who argues that the current policy is working is fooling themselves.

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez said yesterday’s actions couldn’t have occurred under Fidel Castro. But she wants to see four specific things happen to grade how Raul Castro is truly doing something positive for the Cuban public:

This, however, is just the beginning. Lacking is a public timeline by which commits the Cuban government to a series of gestures in support of democratization and respect for differences. We must take advantage of the synergy of both announcements to extract a public promise, which must include, at a minimum, four consensus points that civil society has been developing in recent months.

The release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience; the end of political repression; the ratification of the United Nations covenants on Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the consequent adjustment of domestic laws; and the recognition of Cuban civil society within and outside the island. Extracting these commitments would begin the dismantling of totalitarianism.

In other news…

It was a huge day of news in the city of Tampa yesterday. President Obama’s announcement on a diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba was huge, especially when you consider that there are approximately 300,000 Cuban Americans living in the Tampa Bay area. Congresswoman Kathy Castor was extremely pleased with the developments.

Meanwhile developer and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik was wowing the Tampa Establishment with the unveiling of his ambitious $1 billion plan to transform the waterfront area of Channelside in Tampa.

And it looks like there won’t even be a special election in HD 64 — where Jamie Grant was set to face off against Republican Miriam Steinberg. But she’s now out, but there’s still a write-in candidate that Grant must get through to win his old seat back.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.