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Florida, the GOP Nomination Race, and the Cuban Embargo

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Over the past months we have seen the main candidates to the GOP nomination in the United States racing towards the ultimate price, the chance of challenging Barack Obama in the presidential elections to be held later on in November this year.

Now that the Republican primaries in Florida loom large on the horizon, who will take the Cuban-American vote seem to be in everybody's mouth. As time goes by and votes start counting, some issues barely discussed by the candidates until now will acquire increasing relevance over the next weeks. Among these, what to do with Cuba, and more significantly, what to do with the US embargo that has been in place for almost 50 years, is likely to steal a few headlines.

As it happens none of the three main GOP candidates back the staunch support given by Florida's representatives over the past decades to the embargo. Mitt Romney, who is seen in the Sunshine State as perhaps too liberal, has been campaigning recently alongside Jeff Flake, one of the most consistent critics of the embargo.

Ron Paul's position could not be clearer. In a visit to the Tampa Bay area in April last year, he was quoted as saying "If we wouldn't have had this embargo for 40 years, Castro would have been gone a long time ago". Unsurprisingly, Paul's opinions are not very popular in Miami, either.

Finally, the hardcore social conservative of the lot, Senator Rick Santorum, on top of having to fend off suggestions that his anti-immigration policies are likely to cross Cuban-Americans in Florida, has a lot to explain when it comes to his past vis-à-vis Cuba. In an episode he probably wishes to forget, Santorum was part of a select group of republicans who participated in a bi-partisan committee back in 1998 that suggested former President Bill Clinton the pressing need for ending the embargo with immediate effect.

More to the core of the problem, the likes of Ileana Ross-Lethinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, champions of the US embargo for a number of years now, have had to deal with the fact that Cuban-Americans are everyday less interested in preserving this unilateral measure.

To add to their woes, they also have had to contend with increasing calls coming from the Republican camp to end the embargo. As recently as 2009 Republican congressman Richard Lugar called to reconsider the viability and effectiveness of the embargo, stating that it "has failed to achieve its stated purpose of bringing democracy to the Cuban people".

Anyone with a slightly open mind would agree with such a statement. For years now, the US embargo has been as useless as an ashtray on a motorbike. Not even in the mid-90s when Castro's regime seemed bound to collapse were its proponents able to capitalize. The testament to its catastrophic failure is there for all to see: there is a still a Castro at the helm in the island.

Not only the embargo has been ineffective, but it has also become highly unpopular. For many years now no other country in the Western Hemisphere has supported it. Year after year the isolation of the US is highlighted across the world with a condemnation of the embargo in the General Assembly of the United Nations. Last year the US managed to get the support of only one country, Israel, while the rest of the world either voted against or abstained.

On top of this, as Ron Paul asserted not a long time ago, the embargo is also starting to affect the US from an economic point of view. An unlikely source, Forbes Magazine, only a few days ago suggested that the embargo should be dropped so that the US would have a chance of getting their hands on the possibly substantial oil reserves that have been found in Cuba's waters.

In spite of the overpowering evidence pointing to its failure, President Obama has resisted like as others before him, to lift the embargo once and for all. Over the years the embargo has become both a business and a political token in every US presidential campaign. Florida, we should not forget, is a State with the ability to deliver the presidency of the United States. However, not even Florida's pull should deter US politicians from changing the state of the game once and for all.

It is time now to end this aged and obsolete policy, and to do so unilaterally without expecting any returns from Castro's regime. Its ending on condition of good will gestures' from Havana has not worked, period. Fifty years of letdowns should indicate that something, even if we cannot pinpoint what, must be changed. When something doesn't work, it needs fixing.

Just think about the likely results of such a brave move. Think about the flocks of US visitors arriving in Havana, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba; think about the boost that Cuban economy and trade would receive with immediate effect; think about those same dissidents so much praised outside of the island finally having the chance of interacting on a daily basis with Cuban-Americans, US citizens, and eventually, inevitably, even with the international press.

If the United States, regardless of who wins the right to occupy the White House come November, want change they better do something about it, and they better do it now. While Cuba is every day more integrated into Continental organizations such as the ALBA and the CELAC, the United States are more and more isolated. Ending five decades of embargo would be a good start for an epoch of change and prosperity in Cuba, the two objectives that the embargo has failed to achieve.