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U.S.-Cuba’s complex political puzzle

U.S.-Cuba’s complex political puzzle
12/18/2014 8:53 PM 12/18/2014 10:37 PM

Talking about U.S. policy toward Cuba used to be relatively easy for
politicians in Florida: say “Cuba libre” or “Cuba sí, Castro no.”

Support for sanctions and the was a given.

But no longer.

The reaction to Barack Obama’s historic announcement Wednesday
to try to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba was the latest sign yet
that attitudes in the Cuban-American community are changing or, at
least, are far more complex than many would think.

Less than half of Cuban-Americans — 47 percent to be exact — favored the
embargo in a Latino Decisions poll of 400 highly likely Florida Hispanic
voters taken in the final days of the 2014 elections.

Opposition to the embargo stood at 39 percent among likely
Cuban-American voters — a result that Latino Decisons pollster Gary
Segura found surprisingly high. “The Cuban-American leadership that
opposes the embargo has to be in a panic over this,” he said.

The poll also showed that only 33 percent of Cuban-American respondents
said the embargo was very important. But 32 percent said the issue was
not important.

So the intensity of those voters who favor the embargo isn’t
overwhelming, according to the poll.

The Latino Decisions poll echoes results from Florida International
’s annual Cuba poll. FIU’s last survey, in May, found 51
percent of Cuban-American voters favored the embargo in Miami-Dade
County, which has the nation’s largest concentration of people of Cuban
descent, nearly 900,000 people.

Of all Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County, including non-voters, 52
percent opposed the embargo, according to the FIU poll.

That signified a 39 percentage-point decrease since 1991, when FIU first
began polling the issue. Meantime, Cuban-American support for
unrestricted has increased 25 percentage points. Also, 68 percent
supported normalizing relations with Cuba.

Asked about that last number, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, an embargo
supporter and Obama critic, said the poll doesn’t tell the whole story.

“First of all, on issues of deep principle — such as ,
dignity and democracy — that we should take our cues from a poll,” Rubio
said. “Secondly, we have a poll every two years in this state. It’s
called ‘elections.’ As far as I can tell, every one of our members of
Congress who has been elected in those districts agrees with my position
— and I with their position — on this issue.”

Rubio made the comments during a Miami press conference with U.S. Reps.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, all Republicans. His brother,
former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, also spoke along with family
members of the four rafter-aid activists who were
shot down and killed by Cuban jets in 1996.

That incident led Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen to help persuade
Congress to enshrine the Cuban embargo into federal law. They say it was
necessary because they worried beforehand that then-President Clinton
would unilaterally end the embargo, which had existed in various forms
since 1960 but was under the purview of the president.

Now, thanks to that 1996 law known as the Helms-Burton Act, the embargo
is supposed to remain until Congress changes the law and Cuba holds free
and fair elections, releases political prisoners and guarantees free
speech and workers’ rights.

“There’s an extraordinary amount of leverage in the hands of the Cuban
opposition” Lincoln Diaz-Balart said.

But the support for the embargo, as the polls show, is waning.

“It is certainly in freefall. Not a single new voice that has spoken out
on Cuba policy this year has embraced their position,” said Ric Herrero,
executive director of Cuba Now, a nonprofit advocating normalized
relations with Cuba.

Cuba Now helped underwrite the portion of the Florida Latino Decisions
poll concerning attitudes toward Cuba. The Florida poll and other Latino
Decisions polls in other states were paid for by groups that advocate
for immigrants and Hispanics.

“As these poll results show, being pro-embargo no longer gets you to 50
percent of the Cuban-American vote in statewide races,” Herrero said.

The polling concerning Cuban-Americans is not definitive. The Latino
Decisions sample had an error margin of more than 6 percentage points.
And, while it found Cuban-Americans weren’t overwhelmingly in favor of
the embargo, its poll found that 65 percent of Cuban-Americans voted for
Gov. Rick Scott while only 35 percent voted for Democrat Charlie Crist,
who advocated for lifting the embargo and traveling to Cuba.

But media exit polls indicated Crist won Cuban-Americans 50-46 percent.
A post-election survey by Scott’s campaign consulting company,
OnMessage, found similar results to Latino Decisions, giving Scott 65
percent of the Cuban-American vote to Crist’s 30 percent.

Said Crist: “I don’t know if I won it or not. But I’m happy the
President is talking about changing a policy that hasn’t worked.”

Scott’s top political advisor, OnMessage’s Curt Anderson, indicated he’s
pleased as well. “Obama’s Cuba gambit will hurt Dem chances to win FL in
16,” Anderson said on Twitter. “Gov Scott capitalized on Charlie Crist’s
similar folly — won the Cuban vote big.”

Support for the embargo doesn’t break cleanly down partisan lines.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a possible presidential candidate
like Rubio, called Obama’s decision a “good idea.”

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz
supports the embargo. On Wednesday, the Weston congresswoman waited
until 7:14 p.m. to issue a tepid statement acknowledging Obama’s
actions. A minute later, the DNC sent out a statement that blasted
Republicans for opposing the president over Cuba.

On Thursday, when asked about Obama, Republican campaign donor and Miami
-insurance tycoon Mike Fernandez was more supportive of the
president than was Wasserman Schultz.

“I am not a fan of President Obama but after 50 plus years, this is long
overdue,” said Fernandez, who was 12 when his family fled Cuba in 1964.
“Let us focus on helping the Cuban people versus hurting the regime.
Biology will soon take care of them.”

The head of FIU’s Cuba poll, Guillermo Grenier, said the changes in the
Cuban-American community are driven by the passing of an older
generation and an influx of people from the island who are more like
economic immigrants, instead of political exiles.

The population is changing. And attitudes are changing,” Grenier said.
“The days when you have a cafecito at Versailles and say Fidel sucks to
get instant support from the community are over.”

Source: U.S.-Cuba’s complex political puzzle | The Miami Herald –

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