Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Anti-Obama protesters don't speak for Miami

Florida International University, The Beacon

Chris Cabral / Asst. Life! Editor

Issue date: 9/10/07 Section: Opinion

There were no more than 30 of them, these anti-Obama protesters, holding signs and shouting insults at the more than 1,500 people who were gathering across the street, waiting to hear the Senator from Illinois speak Aug. 25 at the Miami-Dade Auditorium in Little Havana. The protesters were few, but what they lacked in numbers, they made up for with yells of angry rhetoric; occasional, vaguely threatening gestures and a very loud megaphone.

"Obama, Miami doesn't want you!" shouted one of the protesters. They ostensibly spoke for all of Miami.

Forget the almost 2,000 people who paid to watch the presidential candidate give a 45 minute speech. But only a few of his supporters had signs - and not one had a megaphone.

The protesters were angry over Obama's statement that he'd meet with leaders of hostile countries-including Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Obama also said he'd lift travel restrictions for Cuban Americans to visit family members on the island. The senator also supports letting them send unlimited remittances to family members. These statements didn't spark much controversy in other places throughout the country, like Idaho. But in South Florida, supporting anything other than an absolute hard-line approach to Cuba can make some of the more right-wing members of the Miami community throw a fit.

Of course, there isn't a single politician in this country, Republican or Democrat, who would ever claim to be pro-Castro. Yet, judging by the level of animosity and venom coming from those who "didn't want" him there, you'd think anyone supporting a change in Cuban-American policy was a card-carrying member of the Fidel Castro fan club.

But today, many Cuban Americans are fed up with the current policy toward Cuba. According to The Miami Herald, an FIU poll found that 55 percent of Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade actually favor lifting restrictions that ban Cuban Americans from visiting the island more often than once every three years.

This suggests that, among the Cuban American community, opinions regarding America's Cuba policy is less cut-and-dry than commonly assumed.

Of course, among those who see the phantom of Castro lurking behind every call for change in Cuban policy, even this poll has come under attack.

"This is another one of those annual `push polls' done by those who want to unilaterally ease sanctions to benefit the Castro regime," Republican state representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart's chief of staff told McClatchy news services.

In reality, the poll was funded by the Cuba Study Group and the Brookings Institution. Neither group is a communist organization.

If we assume the poll wasn't red propaganda put out by Castro's minions, it stands as evidence that Obama's position doesn't really put him at odds with the Cuban American community.

What it suggests is that right-wing hardline members don't necessarily represent the majority of the Cuban community - even if they have big signs and megaphones.

As The Miami Herald put it, the content of Obama's speech was hardly inflammatory.

And there was more common ground between Obama and the protesters than was apparent at first glance.

Both deplore the treatment of political prisoners. Both decry the Castro regime. And both express that the desire for "liberty" in Cuba should be a guiding principle in America's policy toward the island.

Yet only one participant in this debate - namely, the protesters - insisted on tarring their opponent by equating Obama with Castro, Communism and the death of liberty itself.

It is this negative brand of politics that Obama always denounces in his speeches, along with his desire to end it.

The small crowd shouting outside the event may have made noise, but the presence of the hundreds who came to see Obama speak delivered a loud and powerful message. The people of Miami, and the entire nation, want the debate over America's policies to change. They want an exchange of ideas. Not a shouting match.

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