Miami Beach Mayor Suggests Invading Cuba, Swears He Was Kidding

Miami Beach Mayor Suggests Invading Cuba, Swears He Was KiddingEXPAND
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Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is having a weird month. Last week, he got into an emoji-filled Twitter fight with the Airbnb company account after accusing the home-sharing service of ruining the quality of life on his island.

Today, in front of a roomful of Cuban-Americans, Levine suggested invading Havana. The mayor insists he was just kidding, though.

"Why aren’t we discussing the invasion of the island?” Levine said during a panel discussion on Cuban-American business dealings at Barry University, according to the Miami Herald. The mayor then added that a military invasion "would probably take 24 hours at best.”

The Herald, in something of an understatement, called the remarks an "inartful" joke and said that a few people in the crowd "chuckled" at the mayor's suggestion. Levine's fellow panelists reportedly did not take the remark seriously.

But because of Cuba's long, blood-soaked history of Spanish invasions, U.S.-backed coups, and CIA meddling, invasions are not a usual comedy source for sitting politicians in Miami. And at least one lawyer who witnessed Levine's speech said some people in the audience gasped at the joke.

Levine's spokesperson, Christian Ulvert, stresses to New Times that the mayor's statements were in jest and that he brought up the subject only as part of a debate about how to best open the Caribbean nation to free trade. (Ulvert himself did not attend the discussion today.)

"The mayor, as reported, was not serious about invading Cuba," Ulvert says. "He offered a lighthearted comment in discussing the future of Cuba."

Ulvert says the mayor was "leading a discussion" on how to best bring prosperity to the Cuban people when he listed three options: The first, Levine said, was engaging with the Castro regime, which he said has not worked for the past 60 years. The second was "direct engagement with Cubans" and "American entrepreneurs."

"The mayor jokingly said the third option was, 'Are you going to go invade Cuba?'" Ulvert says. "'You could be doing so in less than 24 hours.' He said that jokingly, without seriousness to it, just to highlight that there were really only two options."

Ulvert maintains the joke landed, but local lawyer Ramon Guillen, who attended the discussion, says the roomful of Cuban-Americans gasped. Someone in the crowd said, "Oh shit," Guillen says.

"We just heard Mayor Levine say that if the embargo is not working, and the idea of offering a drip-drip of capitalism isn't working, then why aren't we invading Cuba?" Guillen said in a Facebook Live stream from outside the auditorium:

Guillen tells New Times that moments before the mayor tossed off his invasion joke, Levine claimed that "although not born Cuban, he is an adopted Cuban within our community."

"I don't know that to be true," Guillen says. "I don't speak for my community, but with words like that, I wouldn't want him talking to my kids and teaching them those values."

In case there's any question why most Miami politicos avoid cracking jokes about Cuban invasions, it's worth remembering the island's history. Cuba has spent most of its history ruled either by Spanish colonialists, America-backed puppet governments and dictators, or the Castros. The Spanish, of course, also forced African slaves to the island to work on sugar plantations. The Cuban people have fought multiple wars to free themselves. And Fidel had long justified holding onto power because, if he did not, the American government might try to take over the island again.

So it's understandable that "invasion" might not be the best topic to joke about.

"The Cuban community have very strong feelings about the Cuban regime, but I don't know anyone within our community, exiled or otherwise, who would not be stunned by that comment," Guillen says. "Most of us in attendance at this conference are Cuban-born or American born with Cuban roots, like me. Many here are lawyers and/or law students."

He adds, "I think Mr. Levine chose a very poor venue to raise this issue. And he should have considered the impact of those words before he made them."

Ulvert says the mayor was in a meeting and couldn't speak with New Times. But just before 1 p.m. today, Levine tweeted, "We all agree that the Cuban regime must change!"

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