The Hispanic vote: Welcome to pandering 101

Much the same way that autumn is subtly introduced via the brisk chill in the air and the brown falling of flakey leaves from their branches, a presidential election has its own ushers. Speaking as a Cuban American and not quite sure which part of that distinction is the noun and which is the adjective, I can always tell that a national election is at hand by the ponderous increase in the shameless political ads that blanket the Spanish-language media. Regardless of their respective parties, and often in a piecemeal Spanish that would have made Cervantes opt for a job as a bricklayer, the candidates initiate the hackneyed practice of the anti-Castro rhetoric as well as empty, self-serving gestures.

John Kerry actually rented office space across the street from the Versailles restaurant in hopes of capturing the agora-like essence of the oftentimes-public debates that take place there. It has even been rumored that Kerry, in an abundance of political correctness, is trying to get owner Felipe Vals to effect a menu change. Instead of listing black beans as “frijoles negros,” Kerry is insisting on “frijoles afro-cubanos.” Not to be outdone, George W. Bush has asked his brother Jeb to help him out with Spanish lessons and was reportedly seen trying to place a floral arrangement on the tomb of Celia Cruz. Only the quick thinking of an unidentified Secret Service agent, who informed the president that the beloved Queen of Salsa is in fact buried in New Jersey, prevented a PR embarrassment. On his own initiative, however, Bush cleverly placed the flowers at the grave site of Desi Arnaz.

In response, Kerry has contracted a Latin dance instructor and has entered a conga line group that is scheduled to participate in next year’s Calle Ocho Festival. Bush then declares the Mojito (a Cuban version of a mint julep) as the national beverage, but cautions us all not to drink and drive. Kerry is fitted for a red, white and blue (incidentally, the Cuban national colors) guayabera with the words No Bush, No Problema stitched over the left breast pocket.

If you think this all sounds ridiculous, you should listen to what they are really saying. It’s hard to tell the difference after 40-plus years. The sincerity in U.S. policy towards Cuba died a long time ago, and all that we are likely to get instead is pandering. By the way, did you hear that both Bush and Kerry are promising to participate in the next running of the bulls down Palm Avenue?

Octavio Ramos can be contacted at