In Florida, U.S. policy on Cuba long has been factor in local politics.
And now, the gubernatorial campaign is no exception.
The Democratic candidate for governor, Charlie Crist, has said it’s time to lift the trade embargo between Cuba and the United States. What’s more, Crist, who was governor from 2007 to 2011, says he’s considering going to Cuba in the summer.
"We ought to think big. We ought to lift the embargo on Cuba and work with the president and get things done," Crist said recently during a visit to the landmark Cuban eatery, Versailles Restaurant, in Miami.
Earlier this year, Crist, who previously had supported the embargo, said in an interview on HBO: “I mean the embargo has been there – what – 50 years now? I don’t think it worked. It is obvious to me that we need to move forward and I think get the embargo taken away. Really. I believe that."
His opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, strongly condemned Crist’s plans to visit Cuba as well as his opposition to the embargo – both touchy subjects among many of the Cuban exiles who live in Florida.
“He is talking about going to Cuba so all this is going to do is embolden the Castro regime,” Scott said during a campaign event Wednesday with Miami elected officials, most of whom were Cuban-American. “He will be used for propaganda for Cuba. I'm going to focus on Florida families. When he spends money there he is helping the Castro regime."
Asked by a reporter if he would go to Cuba, Scott said: “I wouldn't go. There is no freedom of speech, they throw people in prison. There is oppression. It is not a free country.”
For decades, opposing the embargo openly practically spelled political suicide in South Florida, where Cuban-Americans generally harbor strong feelings against the Castro regime and long insisted on keeping the embargo, if for no other reason than a symbolic one.
Many critics of the embargo have said that it has failed to bring democratic changes to the government in Cuba, and has succeeded only in hurting the people on the island by cutting off their access to many resources.
Supporters say that lifting the embargo will not bring more liberties to Cubans there, and that the regime will be the only one to benefit from any influx of U.S. dollars.
Also, Florida is now home to a vastly diverse Latino population, one that includes many people who oppose the embargo. Crist is beating Scott in Miami-Dade 49-33 percent. He also leads him in polls statewide.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Florida, praised Crist’s views and his consideration of traveling to Cuba.
"I am very pleased that others will travel to Cuba, speak with the outgoing and friendly Cuban people, stand up for American values, and learn for themselves,” said Castor, who traveled there last year with a non-profit group, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Fox News producer Serafin Gomez contributed to this report from Miami.