Cuban experts view power shift of U.S. House as sign of change

With Congress as guardian of U.S. embargo, Cuba watches election results

HAVANA – Cuban officials watched the U.S. midterm elections closely on Tuesday. Some welcomed the newly elected Democrats who will be replacing two Cuban-American Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, who are fervent supporters of the U.S. embargo. 

Democrat Donna Shalala will be taking over Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's 27th Congressional District seat, and Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell unseated Rep. Carlos Curbelo to represent the 26th District.

"I would say that it can be first a reflection of the changing demographics," said Carlos Alzugarray, a Cuban political analyst.

Alzugarray said Cuban-American voters in South Florida are not all conservative Republicans anymore, and not all support the U.S. embargo. And while Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate, the Democrats seized the House. Only Congress is able to remove the U.S. embargo. 

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American Republican who has represented Florida's 25th District since 2002, protested former President Barack Obama's policy of re-engagement, and he supported President Donald Trump's decision to reduce services at the U.S. embassy in Havana, after an alleged attack that injured several U.S. State Department employees. 

Diaz-Balart was re-elected by a large margin on Tuesday, and his support of the U.S. embargo will continue to be a priority. It's a position that is deeply embedded in his family's legacy. 

His paternal aunt Mirta Diaz-Balart was Fidel Castro's first wife. His father, Rafael Diaz-Balart, served in Cuba's House of Representatives during Fulgencio Batista's presidency in Cuba. He founded La Rosa Blanca, an anti-Fidel Castro organization, and died at his home in Key Biscayne in 2005. 

Diaz-Balart has the support of Sen. Marco Rubio, and newly re-elected Cuban-American Senators Ted Cruz and Bob Menendez. He will also likely count on Rick Scott, the former Florida governor who ran against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.  

Before the election, John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, visited Miami's historic Freedom Tower to deliver a speech denouncing the "troika of tyranny," a term he used to describe the allied socialist governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. 

Some experts in Cuba believed the timing of Bolton's speech was an appeal to Cuban voters in South Florida to vote for Trump supporters like Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a Cuban-American born in Miami. 

"That didn't seem to work," Alzugarray said. 

Shalala beat Salazar despite the endorsement of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association.


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