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An Obama Victory Would Mean Significant Changes for Cuba and Latinos Living in the U.S., Says UB Caribbean Studies Chairman

Release Date: October 21, 2008

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Electing Barack Obama president could significantly change the balance of power in Cuba and among Latinos in the U.S. because Cuba would be forced to deal with the first American administration in decades poised to strengthen ties with the country's military government, the director of the University at Buffalo's Caribbean Studies Program said today.

"For the first time since President Eisenhower, the Castro brothers are becoming aware that come next year they might be dealing with a chief executive in Washington whose policy will be to reestablish dialogue leading to the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana," said Jose F. Buscaglia, associate professor of American studies and director of UB's Caribbean Studies Program.

Buscaglia, who has spent the past decade traveling with students to Cuba and who has extensive knowledge of the country's cultural geography and politics, said the prospect of Obama as president sends a "profound sense of unease into the darkest precincts of power in Havana." An Obama administration will be a "perilous threat" to the reigning military government now ruling Cuba, according to Buscaglia.

"Nothing could be more threatening to the long-held views of the Cuban 'comandantes' and generals, as well as to the institutions they have carefully developed over the last half century to keep their country under the tightest control," said Buscaglia.

Electing Obama, with his interest to open talks with the Cuban government, would be a more serious threat to the military elites who now control Cuba than the loss of Soviet aid in the early 1990s and the subsequent collapse of the island's economy, according to Buscaglia.

"Will the Castro brothers engineer a crisis to prevent the reestablishment of normal relations?" Buscaglia asked. "Will they be able to contain the people of Cuba, predominantly young and non-white, if they are attracted to a figure sitting in the Oval Office whose face will seem more familiar and whose vision will be all the more coherent than those of the elusive old men who rule their lives from a secret hospital room or a bunker in Havana?"

The U.S. broke relations with the Cuban government shortly after Fidel Castro became prime minister in 1959 following the overthrow of the Batista government. Since coming to power, the Bush administration has carried on an unprecedented set of measures intended to raise tensions and impede the normalization of relations with Havana, Buscaglia said.

Electing Republican candidate John McCain would send a different message to Cuba, Buscaglia said. McCain would continue to support the Bush doctrine of isolating Havana, especially since McCain seems to hold a particular grudge against the Castro brothers whose agents he still blames for some of the harshest interrogation methods used against him when he was a POW in Vietnam, Buscaglia said.

An Obama victory would be fundamentally different, Buscaglia said. It could also significantly change the power structure in what Buscaglia called the "Story of Two Cities" played out in the Miami-Havana connection.

After two consecutive elections won by George W. Bush with the support of the Cuban exile community in Florida, the wealthiest and politically most-powerful sector of the Latino community in the U.S. may stand to lose much clout in the power centers of what in Havana is known as the "monster" or the "empire," according to Buscaglia.

"An Obama victory could change the balance of power in favor of Chicano, Puerto Rican, and other Central and South American Spanish-speaking constituencies in the U.S. that are more liberal and populist than the often conservative and sometimes outright racist Cuba-American elites," said Buscaglia. "This would be no insignificant change as Latinos become the majority of the population of the country. It could set a new tone on internal political debates and it certainly would be a welcomed change for most of our neighbors in the hemisphere and indeed throughout the world."

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