Commentary: CANF has chance to help shape Cuba policy

With Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, the Cuban American National Foundation is sitting pretty after wandering the political wilderness for eight years.

Jorge Mas Santos - scion of the architect of U.S. policy toward Cuba before ultra-conservatives walked out of CANF in a huff in 2001 - now has the ear of President-elect Barack Obama.

Mas Santos' father, Jorge Mas Canosa, was brilliant at positioning CANF as a human rights group backed by Republicans and many Democrats in Congress during the Reagan years. When George H.W. Bush was running for reelection in 1992 against Bill Clinton, Mas Canosa tried to straddle both sides.

I recall Mas Canosa telling me at the time that, even though he personally embraced the GOP, he did not want CANF or Cuban Americans to ever be taken for granted, as blacks had been by the Democratic Party. Human rights, he noted, have no party affiliation.

The Bushes never forgot the slight. When George W. Bush ran in 2000, he expected allegiance from CANF. By then Mas Canosa had died, and Mas Santos vowed to keep his father's bipartisan approach. CANF was locked out. Instead, the Cuban Liberty Council, formed by CANF's break-away old guard, had an open door at the White House and pushed to tighten travel and remittances to Cuba.

The result? With Fidel Castro all but dead and his brother Raul in charge, the U.S. government has had no sway on the regime and the opposition is floundering.

With Obama's win CANF is positioned to have immense influence on Cuba policy. What to expect?

To read the complete column, visit The Miami Herald.

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