MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
NOAH ADAMS, host:
And I'm Noah Adams.
Today, in Florida, Barack Obama laid out his vision for a new direction in policy towards Latin America. The Democratic presidential candidate called Bush administration policy in that region disastrous. And he called for direct talks - we're quoting, here - "with friend and foe alike, that includes Cuba." And Senator Obama took his message to one of the places where U.S. policy in Cuba matters most, South Florida.
NPR's Greg Allen reports now from Miami.
GREG ALLEN: It's been a big week in Miami for discussions of U.S.-Cuba policy. Earlier in the week, Republican presidential candidate John McCain was here reiterating his support for the current U.S. policy, aimed at isolating the island and the regime of Raul Castro. Today, Barack Obama brought a different perspective. He talked about Cuba, but it was part of a larger discussion. Obama charged that over the past eight years, the Bush administration has ignored Latin America. And he said that's allowed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to expand his influence throughout the region.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): That is the record, the Bush record in Latin America that John McCain has chosen to embrace. Senator McCain doesn't talk about these trends in our hemisphere because he knows that it's part of the broader Bush-McCain failures to address priorities beyond Iraq.
ALLEN: Obama presented a series of proposals that he said would help the U.S. play a more active role in Latin America. He said he'd reappoint a special envoy to the America's, increase aid in economic development investment, and work to promote democracy throughout the region.
Sen. OBAMA: So we face a clear choice here in the United States in this election. We can continue as a bystander, or we can lead the hemisphere into the 21st century. When I am president of the United States, we will choose to lead.
ALLEN: Although the talk was about foreign policy, today's event was also very much about domestic politics. Since the days of Ronald Reagan, Cuban-Americans have been a reliable Republican voting block in Florida. They helped George W. Bush win, narrowly, in 2000, and again, by a wider margin in 2004. But there are signs that Democrats may have an opening in the Cuban-American community. Democrats recently celebrated when they surpassed Republicans in registering Hispanics in Florida, and polls show that a majority of Cuban-Americans support a change in policy that would loosen restrictions on travel and on sending money to the island.
In his speech in Miami, Obama said there are no better people to promote freedom in Cuba than Cuban-Americans.
Sen. OBAMA: And that's why I have said that I will immediately allow unlimited family travel and remittances to the island. It's time to let Cuban-Americans see their mothers and their fathers, their sisters and their brothers.
ALLEN: The question in November is whether the popularity of those ideas will translate into support for Democratic candidates. For the first time in years, the three Republican Cuban-American members of Congress from South Florida are facing serious challenges from Democrats. Lincoln Diaz-Belart, who's represented Miami in Congress for 22 years, says he not worried.
Representative LINCOLN DIAZ-BELART (Republican, Florida): It will be seen again in the elections in November, where over 80 percent, once again, of the Cuban-American community will vote, in this instance, for Senator McCain, and for the candidates who oppose unilateral concessions.
ALLEN: There was a time when the group that sponsored Obama's talk, the Cuban-American National Foundation, was among the hardest of hard-line groups, rejecting anything other than the overthrow of the Castro regime. But with time, there's a changing of the guard in Miami, and the group has moderated its position. While he didn't endorse Obama, at least on Cuba, Chairman Jorge Mas Santos did endorse many of his ideas.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami
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