Contrarian Cuba Policy A Formidable Challenge

By now, many voters have seen those Al Fox billboards around town, including the ones that asked “Who’s Al Fox?”

One answer: A likeable enough guy with Washington connections who seems to be on the progressive, government-activist side of some key issues. He supports, for example, universal access to healthcare, a national catastrophic homeowners’ insurance coverage program and a strong stand against global warning. And he’d also like to see American ground troops out of Iraq – “tomorrow.”

But he’s hardly the only Democratic candidate in the Congressional District 11 race that is in favor of protecting Americans home and abroad.

What really differentiates him from the others – including frontrunner Kathy Castor – is his Cuba stand. Essentially, it is: End the embargo, jettison Helms-Burton, normalize relations and talk to (one of the) Castro(s). He gets hammered by hardliners labeling him traitorous and dismissed by pragmatic politicians playing it safe. He’s long been at odds with official U.S. government policy. It comes with the tumultuous territory.

He’s the founder of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation and stresses that a more sensible, humane approach is, for openers, good for America. As in American business, including the Port of Tampa. It would also be family friendly, he adds, and a step in unmaking the Ugly American image that is increasingly the face of U.S. foreign policy.

The only problem: Do enough people really care?

Likely answer: No.

Fighting and dying in Iraq and paying bills at home is agenda enough for most geo-politically-challenged Americans. Besides, even those who are passionate about the issue tend to be on the other side – the one fraught with anti-dictator recriminations and ongoing, emotional outrage.

“It’s a throw-away (issue) for most politicians,” acknowledges Fox, a 61-year-old son of Ybor City. “But I can’t walk away from it.”

The occasion of Fox’s most recent rhetorical walk on the riled side was a press conference at Tampa International Airport minutes after he had deplaned from his 56th visit to Cuba.

The trip had been planned before Fidel Castro was hospitalized, but he was encouraged by his Cuban hosts to follow through. Besides, he explained, on a subject about which there are so many ill-informed opinions, he wanted “to have the most current information.”

Havana routine

Havana, he said, seemed to be “operating normally.” He was told, however, that the military was on “high alert.” He was also told – by National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon – that the alert was more a function of external contingencies. In case the U.S. might, according to Alarcon, “look the other way” and allow “some crazies” to embark on a misadventure.

He was also told by Alarcon what Cuba has been telling the rest of the world: Castro is alive and recuperating after a “complex operation” and is “lucid and asking questions about state affairs.” He also said that Alarcon asked in exasperation: “Why is it so difficult to understand what we have said?”

That may have been the glib Alarcon playing the disingenuousness card. Governments in a transition crisis that don’t present living presidential proof – and don’t deign to have their acting president (Raul Castro) make a statement in public – only fuel the flames of rumor-mongers and their agendas. Governments typically want more control than that.

Unless.

The death-watch scenario is really the ultimate in micro-managing by the ultimate micro-manager, Fidel Castro.

Fox’s take is that the detail-challenged approach could very well be a way to “gauge” reaction – domestic and foreign — to Castro’s eventual or imminent demise. A mortality dry run, if you will.

It may also be another way, he said, for the Cuban David to “get under the skin” of the yanqui Goliath with some dearly departing misdirection.

As for Raul’s public no-show, that shouldn’t be overanalyzed, noted Fox. “Not seeing Raul means nothing,” said Fox. “Nobody ever did.”

Other Fox comments:

*”At the end of the day, any change in Cuba will come from within.”

*”You hear (Bush Administration) talk about a ‘return’ to democracy. When the hell was that?”

*”As Jimmy Carter said, ‘Americans are our best ambassadors.’ “We should extend that to Cuba too.”

*”We are their first choice for oil drilling. I asked Alarcon if there were still enough of that pie. He said, ‘Absolutely.'”

*”ALIMPORT (Cuba’s food import agency) could start tomorrow doing business with the Port of Tampa.”

*”It’s not the right-wing Cubans who are the real problem. It’s the political leaders of both parties. They all pick on Castro to show how tough they are. I thought Madeleine Albright was bad

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