Obama gains with Cuban Americans, but effect on policy remains unclear

 

Mexico City

President Barack Obama won a historic share of Cuban American ballots in Florida this week, challenging the Republican Party's lock on a voting bloc that for decades has defined US policy toward Cuba and the Castro brothers.

For the past five administrations, the power of the Cuban American vote in the swing state and its passionate, hard-line anti-Castro legislators have strongly influenced how presidents approached the Communist-led island, where a U.S. trade embargo and travel ban have been enforced for more than 50 years.

The dramatic lurch of Cuban American voters away from the GOP in presidential contests is clear, but whether this will translate into a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba is unknown.

According to exit polls, Obama took 48 percent of the Cuban American vote in Florida this week, up from 35 percent in 2008. In 2000, Al Gore took only 25 percent of that vote.

Also on Tuesday, Joe Garcia, a Cuban American Democrat who is a former head of the Cuban American National Foundation, a powerful lobbying group in Miami and Washington, defeated incumbent Republican Rep. David Rivera in Florida's 26th Congressional District, which includes south Miami and the Florida Keys.

Garcia favors a slow, cautious engagement with Cuba and approves of the Obama administration's decision to allow more Cuban Americans to visit their homeland more often and to send more money and goods there — a far less strict policy than many Republicans in Congress endorse.

It is still against the law for ordinary Americans to travel to or do business in Cuba — though with exceptions to the embargo, the United States sells more than $350 million in chickens, corn, soy and wheat to the island each year, for cash only.

"The number of Cuban Americans going for Obama were shocking to us, and we have been studying this section of electorate for more than 30 years," said pollster Fernand Amandi in Miami.

"For Republicans, this must be very sobering, because in a quick, dramatic shift, your most reliable base of Hispanics in the GOP are suddenly not there," said Amandi, managing partner of the survey group Bendixen & Amandi International.

Both advocates for more engagement and the hard-liners opposed to such measures agree that forward movement is difficult as long as Havana resists overtures to free Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor imprisoned in Cuba as an agent of subversion and sentenced to 15 years for bringing satellite communications equipment to the country.

"But for the first time in years, maybe there is some chance for a change in policy," said Wayne Smith, a former diplomat who served as chief of mission at the U.S. Interest Section, the virtual U.S. embassy in Havana, during the Carter administration.

"There are now many more new young Cuban Americans who support a more sensible approach to Cuba," Smith said.

Exit polls showed that among Cuban Americans born in the United States, more than 60 percent voted for Obama.

Phil Peters, a Cuba analyst at the libertarian Lexington Institute, called the GOP slide in Miami "the hard-liner's last hurrah," and asked in his blog, "Who would have imagined that President Obama could liberalize Cuba policies and increase his Miami-Dade margin by four points?"

The exit polls, however, did not ask Cuban Americans about Cuba policy.

The survey group ImpreMedia shows that Latino voters in Florida named the economy and jobs as the most important issue in this election, followed by immigration, education and health care.

"I don't expect there will be a big change in the Obama administration policy toward Cuba, for several reasons," said James Cason, mayor of Coral Gables in Miami-Dade County and former chief of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana under President George W. Bush.

Cason pointed out that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, won reelection handily, and she remains a staunch opponent of rapprochement.

So does Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who serves on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where he could ascend to the chairmanship, which would create additional roadblocks to any changes requiring congressional approval.

"I think Cuba remains in the backwaters of foreign policy," Cason said.

Another former diplomat and U.S. ambassador in the region, Everett Briggs, said, "Obama has made moves to normalize relations, but he has gotten nothing in return."

"Cuba is not a normal country, so we shouldn't fool ourselves to treat it as such," Briggs said.

In Cuba, Obama is a popular president, and there is hope that he will help improve life on the island.

Carlos Alzugaray, former a Cuban diplomat who is now an academic in Havana, said, "If Obama continues doing what he has done so far, which is not really very much — being more flexible for travel — this is a beneficial trend, but the serious challenges, like the embargo, like removing Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, this requires Congress."

Kirenia Nuñez Perez, a human rights activist in Havana, said that opposition groups in Cuba support Obama, but are frustrated that the Cuban government continues to detain and harass dissidents. "So the question is, will there be a better relationship? Better for who? The Cuban government or the Cuban people?"

- - -

Gabriela Martinez contributed to this report.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?