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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Cuba Policy Could Tilt Elections

Paulo Prada’s article “Cuban-Americans Ponder What U.S. Should Do Next” in today’s Wall St. Journal” reports on the splintering of Cuban American opinions on U.S. policy.

More than half the people of Cuban origin now living in the U.S. have emigrated since the 1980s, according to the Census Bureau. That means that they, unlike the Cuban exiles that fled as the Castro regime embraced communism, lived for extended periods with the harsh reality of that economy and are more likely to have immediate family there. Because of the decrepit state of much of the island, most Cuban-Americans no longer harbor a dream of returning to the houses, haciendas, and pueblos their families fled.
“You no longer think about going back to live because what you once had is no longer there,” said Miguel Vazquez, who fled the island as a boy and now runs Sentir Cubano, a store that specializes in such vintage Cuban goods as reproductions of Havana phone books from 1959. “You think about helping redevelop the country once the regime is gone.”

In terms of national public opinion, there is fairly strong support for liberalizing trade relations with Cuba. As Gallup reports:

Over the past decade, Gallup has found Americans remarkably steadfast in their views about U.S. relations with Cuba — particularly in regard to the U.S. trade embargo. Since 1999, Americans have been more likely to support than oppose the U.S. government’s ending its trade embargo against Cuba — with support narrowly ranging between 48% and 51%, including 51% in the new poll.[conducted 4/20-21]..Americans more widely support ending restrictions on travel to Cuba — with 64% in favor.

The poll also showed 60 percent favoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and 64 percent supporting ending travel restrictions.
It’s been a while since there has been a poll of Floridians on the topic of the economic embargo, but a Rasmussen survey conducted in Florida in March ’08 found that “Now that Fidel Castro has turned over power in Cuba to his brother, 37% of Florida voters believe it’s time to lift the economic embargo against Cuba. Thirty-seven percent (37%) disagree and 26% are not sure.”
Pablo Bachelet reports in his article “Democrats in No Hurry to Change Cuba Policy” in the Miami Herald’s series “The Cuba Puzzle” that congressional Democrats are anxious about Florida’s early presidential primary date and are waiting for the “post-Fidel Castro transition to unfold.” No doubt Democrats are thinking about the ’10 and ’12 elections. Florida’s popular Republican Governor Charlie Crist leads in polls for the ’10 Senate race, and President Obama knows that Florida can still be a make or break state for his re-election campaign. Bachelet also reports that “a majority of those who arrived in the United States prior to 1984 — and are more likely to vote — still oppose any concessions to Cuba.” Also Majority Leader Harry Reid supports a “tough line” on Cuba. Given all of these factors, President Obama’s policy of slowly opening up relations seems politically-prudent, if a tad overly-cautious.
In terms of fostering change in Cuba, however, Michael Kinsley made an interesting point in his WaPo op-ed “A Cuba Policy That’s Stuck On Plan A” last week:

As many have pointed out, we won the Vietnam War in a way. Two ways, in fact. Vietnamese fleeing communism have been a great new ingredient in our ethnic stew, and meanwhile Vietnam is embracing capitalism as hard as it can. We’ve already been enriched by the energies of Cubans who have arrived here since Castro’s revolution. So why do we continue to deny the Cubans still stuck on Castro’s Island the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of capitalism as well?

More accurate to say that our withdrawall from Vietnam made it possible for private enterprise to thrive, but his argument that a softer line on Cuba could do the same seems plausible enough. It will be a long time, however, before we can expect bipartisan support for the change. Once again, Dems will have to go it alone.

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