Andrew Goes to Cuba

In a stroke of political genius, Andrew Cuomo took a trip to Cuba. He orchestrated the visit perfectly, both in terms of what he did and didn’t do. For once, he brought along some of his co-governmental Democratic politician workers. In doing so, he showed that he can play well with others, something for which he has been severely critiqued in the past. Good move. Joining him on the plane were New York business leaders, a group important not only for their potential ability to fund campaigns but also because they are positioned to take advantage of future business opportunities on the island. In one fell swoop, Cuomo gets to build a business/money base that makes him an economic conservative and, at the same time, he wins the appreciation of the left of his party. No one ever said the guy wasn’t strategic.

Andrew loves to be first. You have a lot more impact at the front of the line than you do if you pile on later and just become one of the crowd. He was first in the nation on gun control with his SAFE Act after the Sandy Hook tragedy, gaining a lot of respect from those who think that guns are one of the great scourges of the country. While some of his former conservative backers were infuriated, he gained the admiration of some of the progressives. He did much the same thing with marriage equality.

Now he shows up in Cuba for all of a day. It turns out that he was not the first sitting governor to make the trip because several years ago, Gov. George Ryan of Illinois led the parade. It didn’t help Ryan since he ended up in jail.

Interestingly, you don’t see Cuomo shaking hands with either of the Castro brothers. He sure didn’t want that picture showing up in some future campaign, particularly in the strategically important state of Florida where at least one presidential election was won/lost/stolen. One can be pretty sure that everything, including who he would meet, was set up in advance.

A revision in our Cuba policy has been a long time coming. For years, Americans have been figuring out how to get there and making their way over by hook or, sometimes, by crook. Look, let’s face it — the place is a dictatorship. On the other hand, the Cuban leaders seem to enjoy great popularity despite the lack of true elections. The Cuban health care system seems to treat all well. The education system offers equality of opportunity that we don’t always see in this country. While the Castro brothers have never been exemplary when it comes to freedom of speech and political discourse and while there are signs of real racism in Cuba, the skirts of this country are not entirely clean either. We seem to get along fine with countries with far worse human rights records, like our friends in Saudi Arabia. Cuomo has the foresight to recognize that there are few political risks to what he is doing to open things up. He knows, and so do most people in this country, that if we don’t get our businesses to Cuba, ninety miles off our shores, others are already lining up to do so. This has been one of his better undertakings.

For a man who most people expect will run for President sooner or later, this will be chalked up as a foreign policy win. I expect we will see him make this type of trip to other places. Perhaps he and his group will travel to China and Japan. Some folks think that Andrew wants to be Secretary of State in a Clinton administration since he can’t take a demotion to the Department of Housing and Urban Development where he once reigned. He’ll certainly have to do a lot of traveling to position himself for that job.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/27/15

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