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Timing of Cuba talks crucial to Marco Rubio’s presidential ambitions

Cuba may be a tiny island nation, but it’s hard to overstate the outsize influence U.S. national diplomacy efforts there will have on the White House aspirations of Marco Rubio, writes Caitlin Huey-Burns of RealClearPolitics:

The Florida senator and son of Cuban parents will announce his campaign at Miami’s historic Freedom Tower, considered the “Ellis Island” of the South because it was the first stop in America for scores of Cubans seeking political asylum after fleeing the Castro regime.

But Rubio’s announcement comes against another, more current backdrop of renewed relations with his ancestral country that majorities of Americans and Cubans support. By the time Rubio’s White House campaign becomes official Monday night, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro will have interacted, at the least, at the Summit of Americas in Panama, marking the highest-level meeting between the United States and Cuba in a half-century.

Probably no other national political figure is so closely identified with Cuba as Rubio. Even his Cuban-Canadian rival Sen. Ted Cruz is more removed from the emotional maelstrom of Cuban diaspora politics that dominates much of Miami-Dade.

In December, when the administration announced a thawing of relations between the two countries, easing a 50-year embargo, Rubio was first out of the gate in opposition to the approach he thought emboldened the Castro regime and gave up U.S. leverage in bringing about democratic change in Cuba, even as the majority of the public showed support for normalizing relations.

‘I don’t care if the polls say that 99 percent of people believe we should normalize relations in Cuba,” he said at the time. ‘I don’t care if 99 percent of people in polls disagree with my position. This is my position, and I feel passionately about it.’

But analysts warn there could be serious electoral repercussions if Rubio zigs when the nation is zagging on Cuba.

‘He’s not going to stop the train to normalizing relations with Cuba,’ says Guillermo Grenier, a professor at the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University who has been polling on Cuba relations for two decades. ‘And Cuba is just not an important enough issue nationally to warrant him to change his position. … But he’s got a chance to focus the Republican base on the possibilities of what changing policies might open up economically.’

Written By

Ryan Ray covers politics and public policy in North Florida and across the state. He has also worked as a legislative researcher and political campaign staffer. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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