Three south Florida mayors—J.C. Bermudez of Doral, Philip Levine of Miami Beach, and Jim Carson of Coral Gables—met at a day-long conference organized by the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust to discuss how the U.S. should approach business dealings with Cuba.
The conference was held at Barry University to discuss the ethical, regulatory, and legal implications of doing business with the island.
Levine, a likely Democratic candidate for governor, argued that the best way to help Cubans was to engage in open commerce with the island. But Cason and Bermudez did not support his idea of expanding business with Cuba.
Cason, a Republican who has headed a U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, held an opposite view. He said that any business done on the island will enrich the Cuban military, which controls a large chunk of the economy.
Bermudez, who was born in Cuba, said he wants the people of the island to have “civil rights,” and not “the kleptocracy that exists in Russia . . . [and] Vietnam.” Levine was frustrated by the other mayors’ positions and jocularly suggested an “invasion of the island,” predicting that it would take U.S. military forces “24 hours at best” to complete such an operation.
He later told news sources that he made that remark because he was trying to highlight how opponents of former President Barack Obama’s renewed U.S.-Cuba relations, like Cason, couldn’t offer better solutions.
Throughout the day, lawyers, academics, and business executives discussed topics like human rights considerations in doing business with Cuba, whether business with the U.S. helps the Cuban people, the rules the U.S. should adopt to govern commercial ties with the island, and whether it’s ethical to do any business with Castro’s oppressive regime.
There were many differences of opinion. José Azel of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American studies said there is no demonstrable evidence to back up the idea that doing business with the island will help the Cuban people and lead to political change. He cited China and Vietnam as examples of countries that got richer after adopting free-market reforms, but without any major political reform or improvement to their human rights records.
Sister Ondina Corter, an academic at St. Thomas University, agreed with Levine and said that while economic change won’t bring political change, it will bring cultural change that’ll encourage the island’s inhabitants to think for themselves.
The subject of the panel discussion was unusual for the ethics commission, which usually only deals with ethical conduct in local government. Joe Centorino, the commission’s executive director, told the press that they don’t usually deal with international issues, but there are local issues that have come up because of the island.
Florida Governor Rick Scott recently threatened to cut off state funding from ports that did with Cuba’s “dictator.” His remarks forced the Port of Palm Beach and Port Everglades to cancel plans to sign agreements with Cuba that could have led to more economic cooperation and joint marketing studies.
The state government has also tried to prevent companies that do business with the island from receiving government contracts. A 2012 law wanted to prohibit local and state governments from hiring companies with ties to the island, but it was ruled unconstitutional in a federal appeals court because Florida appeared to be trying to dictate foreign policy.
The mayors’ discussion didn’t touch on any of those particular issues. They instead encouraged any Floridians traveling to the island to meet with dissidents, independent political voices, and even regular Cubans for a different perspective of how things are done under the Castro regime.