Fidel Castro’s resignation as president of Cuba has pushed the differing views of Democratic presidential rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to the forefront — and they could prove crucial in a close election.
During the South Carolina debates, Obama said he would be willing to meet with leaders of rogue nations like North Korea and Cuba without preconditions.
Hillary said flatly that she would not, claiming Obama was “irresponsible” and “naïve” for his willingness to meet with such leaders and insisting that she would not be used for “propaganda” purposes.
But the differences go deeper that that.
As long ago as 2000, Hillary said she favored continuing the trade embargo against Cuba. She recently reiterated that stance, saying “until there is some recognition on the part of whoever is in charge of the Cuban government, that they have to move toward democracy and freedom for the Cuban people, it will be very difficult for us to change our policy.”
Obama, for his part, supported the normalization of relations with Cuba when he was a U.S. Senate candidate in 2003. He wrote: “I believe that normalization of relations with Cuba would help the oppressed and poverty-stricken Cuban people while setting the stage for a more democratic government once Castro inevitably leaves the scene.”
Last August, Obama called for the U.S. to ease restrictions for Cuban-Americans who want to visit Cuba or send money to the island nation.
Hillary said last year that she opposed easing those restrictions.
While Obama and Clinton’s stances on Cuba could influence the increasingly important Latino vote in the remaining primaries, they’re likely to play an even larger role in the general election — especially if Obama squares off against John McCain.
McCain has maintained a hard-line position on Cuba. In a statement he issued after Castro’s resignation was announced, McCain said:
“I think that we should make it very clear that once free elections are held, that the political prisoners are released, and human rights organizations are functioning in Cuba, that we will be willing to provide whatever aid and assistance that's necessary. I fear that … any assistance that came in early would serve to prop up a new regime or a Raul or whoever it is that wants to take Castro's place.”
In Florida’s primary, McCain won more than 50 percent of the Cuban vote, far outpacing Rudy Giuliani and the other GOP candidates.
And in a close general election, Florida could play the pivotal role in deciding the outcome, as it did in 2000.
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