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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Crist’s Cuba visit would send a message

It’s traveling season once more for restless Americans, especially those sick to death of “staycations” and one-tank getaways. With a little more jingle in our pockets and wanderlust in our eyes, AAA says we’re ready to hit the road in numbers and durations not seen since the earliest days of the Great Recession.

Not coincidentally, Charlie Crist — never one to miss a bandwagon — has climbed aboard. Furthermore, because he is not a man of wasted gestures, Crist’s getaway is designed for maximum political advantage: Detecting what seems to be the achievement of critical mass in Floridians’ shifting regard for their nearest international neighbor, Crist says he’s going to Cuba this summer; may even lead an entourage.

It’s true surveys reveal a generalized softening toward Cuba. We’re especially sympathetic for the Cuban people, who endure lives of quiet-or-else desperation under the relentless and diabolical thumbs of the brothers Castro, the ailing and unseen Fidel and his successor, Raul.

We’re also increasingly skeptical about continuing America’s 55-year-old economic embargo, considering it hasn’t triggered the hoped-for counter-revolution and, worse, it’s a public relations quagmire. Rather than own their half-century depression, the Castros employ Uncle Sam’s freeze-out as a ready-made, all-purpose excuse for the failures of their Marxist programs.

Along those lines, justifications for ending or modifying the embargo while normalizing our diplomatic relationship — positions Crist endorses the moment his jet touches down — are brutally mercenary. Open Cuba’s nearby gates to business, goes the thinking, and financial benefits surely will flow both ways.

That certainly might be; there is much good to be gained wherever Adam Smith’s invisible hand is unleashed. But sometimes the negotiators on the other side of the table are so thoroughly reprehensible, the only possible result of sitting down is a bad deal.

Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Florida’s lieutenant governor, understands this utterly. “It was recently reaffirmed by the current administration that Cuba is one of four countries to be a state sponsor of terror — confirming what we already knew.

“Charlie Crist wants to reward the Castro brothers’ regime by paying them a visit, while Cuba’s communist dictatorship continues to violate human rights on the island and directs the same oppression in Venezuela. As a Cuban-American, it is insulting that Charlie’s ignorance is leading him to support and ultimately condone documented abuse and oppression.”

Bingo. Crist’s weak disavowals notwithstanding, his visit will convey the notion, if re-elected chief executive of America’s third most-populous state, there would be some irredeemably vile activities about which he’d willingly avert his gaze.

Which, interestingly, prompts us to think of his pal and former state GOP chairman Jim Greer, and Crist’s look-away track record. But Greer’s felony bilking of the Florida Republican Party didn’t threaten America’s national security, or the stability of an entire continent. The same cannot be said of Cuba’s desperate involvement in Venezuela.

A socialist Venezuela is an ally Cuba can ill-afford to lose. Under 15 years of Hugo Chavez and his hard-line successor, Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela assumed the role of economic sugar daddy once played by the late, unlamented Soviet Union and the countries of the European Eastern bloc. Under an alliance struck by Chavez and Raul Castro in 2007, trade with Venezuela has grown to represent nearly 20 percent of Cuba’s gross domestic product.

Moreover, imported Venezuelan crude accounts for 60 percent of Cuba’s oil demands, for which the island nation “pays” by supplying about 30,000 doctors to Venezuela, according to Pavel Vidal, a Cuban central banker-turned-economics professor at the Universidad Javeriana in Cali, Colombia.

Vidal told NBC News’ Silvana Ordonez if Caracas succumbs to pressure to end favors for the Castro regime in the interest of salvaging its own basket-case finances, Cuba’s threadbare economy could shrink from 4 percent to 7.7 percent, or from dismal to miserable.

Says Vidal, “Cuba depends on Venezuela’s political situation. And right now, Venezuela is unpredictable.”

Small wonder, then, that besides doctors, Cuba — reprising its service to Marxist elements in Angola and Nicaragua — props up disastrous Chavismo policies with arms, finances and training for Maduro’s paramilitary forces.

Only Marxists could screw up a national economy bobbing on an ocean of oil; Venezuela under Maduro deserves to collapse, the sooner the better, if only to begin the task of rising as something freer and more prosperous. Cuba’s mischief postpones the proper march of history. Does Crist care?

For its part, having fouled up paradise only to export misery — would Venezuela require so many Cuban doctors if it had fewer Cubans skilled at military arts? — the brothers Castro need all the dictator pals they can cultivate.

After all, it’s not like they’re brimming with friends back home, where they manage political disagreement by locking up thought criminals. Meanwhile, demonstrating a congenital inability to woo their best possible friends, the Castros coddle genuinely violent thugs who have fled U.S. custody, including escaped cop-killer Joanne Chesimard, a certified domestic terrorist.

We can’t expect everyday Americans, whose concept of Cuba begins with “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” and ends with Los Angeles Dodger Yasiel Puig, to grasp the essence of evil that lies 90 miles south of Key West. But Charlie Crist did, once upon a time when Floridians imagined his policy stances emerged from examined principles. Remember, he properly excoriated his Democratic rival in the 2006 governor’s election, former Tampa Congressman Jim Davis, for having taken the same trip he now plans.

Now we know — at least some of us know — better. Crist on Cuba is the same as Crist on abortion, gun rights, Obamacare, same-sex marriage, voter-fraud prevention, hiking the minimum wage, medical marijuana and leaving the GOP… to name a few areas in which he opportunistically has transmogrified, all in narcissistic pursuit of nabbing the Democratic nomination, then knitting together a 50-percent-plus-one majority in November.

Well, good luck with that. A Survey USA poll of likely voters released May 23 on behalf of WFLA-TV, Channel 8, had some disquieting news for Changeling Charlie. Not only has Rick Scott eased into a 2-point overall lead with commanding advantages among men and along the Interstate 4 corridor, the first poll taken since Crist declared he would surrender his itinerary to the contemptible Castro regime in hopes of snapping selfies with the island proletariat shows Scott ahead 2-1 among … wait for it … Cubans.

Perhaps that critical mass hasn’t shifted so much, after all. Still time to back out, Charlie. Still time to do the right, even politic, thing.

Listen, they say it’s going to be a great summer on — if you can stand the sound of it — Marco Island.

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