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Obama’s Historic Cuban-American Vote Opens Window for Change

WASHINGTON, Nov 9 2012 (IPS) - While political and media attention remains focused on the unprecedented support President Barack Obama received in Tuesday’s election from Latinos, one particular subset of those voters – one with potential foreign policy clout – is drawing intense interest.

Cuban Americans, for the last 50 years one of the most reliable constituencies for Republicans, particularly in the perennial “swing state” of Florida where most of them live, voted for the Democratic candidate in unprecedented numbers.

According to exit polls conducted by both Fox News and the Pew Hispanic Center, Obama beat Romney by a 49-47 percent margin among Cuban-American voters in what one close observer of Florida politics called a “historic demographic upset”.

A couple of other polls, including one conducted by the highly respected Miami-based Bendixen-Amandi International polling firm, found Romney prevailing over Obama among Cuban Americans, but only by a mere 52-48 percent margin.

“I think it has made clear that the Cuban-American community is no longer as monolithically Republican as many interested parties would like them to think,” Fernand Amandi, the firm’s managing partner, told IPS Friday.

“What it means is that this administration will have more room to maneouvre on Cuba policy than they ever thought they had,” said Geoffrey Thale, a Cuba specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

“U.S. policy for decades has been determined far more by political considerations about the vote in Florida than foreign policy considerations, particularly toward Latin America which has called consistently for an end to the U.S. embargo,” Thale told IPS. “So having more room in Florida means they have more flexibility in their policy if they choose to use it.”

Like others, Thale stressed that Obama was unlikely to take major new steps to warm relations, particularly so long as Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor arrested in 2009 and sentenced to a 15-year prison term for crimes against the state, remains in jail.

But a greater opening toward Havana, including broadening current bilateral discussions and further relaxing curbs on travel to Cuba, could be in the offing.

While Florida remains the one state in the country whose electoral votes have not yet been cast due to the continuing counting of ballots there, virtually all political analysts say they believe it will end up in Obama’s column. He is currently leading the state by one percent, or about 50,000 votes.

If, as expected, he prevails, it will be largely due to the higher-than-anticipated Latino turnout which Obama won by a 60-39 percent margin, according to most exit polls. That margin was considerably less than the 71-27 percent spread in Obama’s favour for all U.S. Latino voters, who made up a record 10 percent of the nationwide electorate this year and almost twice much in Florida.

The largest group of Latin voters in Florida are of Cuban heritage – about one-third of all Latinos in the state – a clear explanation for why Obama did not score as well with Latinos there as in every other state in the country.

Still, the results in Florida stunned most observers who interpreted them as a confirmation of a generational shift in Cuban-American political attitudes.

“This is a generational phenomenon,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue (IAD), a Washington think tank. “It reflects the passing of the old generation and the acceptance of new attitudes.”

“Young Cuban Americans are more open about dealing with Cuba and also have other issues that are important to them that Obama was able to capitalise on,” he told IPS, adding, however, that so long as Gross remains in prison, Obama is unlikely to do much more than he has already in terms of rolling back many of the restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba that were imposed during the George W. Bush administration.

While the Pew and Fox News polls showed Obama winning the Cuban-American vote, the Bendixen survey was more detailed and confirmed the generational divide. Cuban-born voters, it found, favoured Romney by 55 percent to 45 percent, but Cuban-American voters born in the U.S. voted for Obama by a 60-40 margin.

“The Cuban-American community is changing,” said Wayne Smith, a former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana who resigned to protest Ronald Reagan’s hard-line policies and has been working for three decades to promote educational and scientific exchanges between the two countries.

“The younger the community and the newer the immigrants, the more difficult it is for the old hard-liners to control,” Smith, who is based at the Center for International Policy, told IPS.

Indeed, as recently as 1988, 85 percent of Cuban Americans in Florida voted for the Republican presidential candidate – George H.W. Bush in that year.

Until now, the high-water mark for a Democrat was Bill Clinton, who won 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote in 1996 and subsequently moved to ease rules governing travel and remittances to Cuba. He also punched a big hole in the trade embargo by permitting agricultural exports to the island for the first time.

In 2000, however, Vice President Al Gore won only 25 percent of the Cuban-American vote in Florida, compared to George W. Bush’s 75 percent. Eight years later, Obama equaled Clinton’s performance, as the generational shift appeared to take firmer hold.

But this year’s Democratic tally of 48-49 percent far exceeded expectations.

While anti-Castro hardliners in the House of Representatives, most prominently Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz Balart, held their seats on Tuesday, Joe Garcia soundly defeated another hard-line incumbent, Rep. David Rivera, to become the first Cuban-American Democrat who explicitly favours better ties with Havana in Congress.

Another hard-line incumbent whose district includes the “Little Havana” section of Miami also fell to a pro-engagement Cuban-American Democrat in the state legislature.

Requests for comment by Ros-Lehtinen’s office and the anti-Castro lobby group, Vision Americas, went unanswered.

If Gross is returned to the U.S. – a major “if” given Havana’s insistence to date that he be exchanged for four Cubans still imprisoned here on controversial espionage charges, following the three-year probation of one in October 2011 – Obama is still likely to act cautiously, according to both Thale and Shifter.

Not only is Cuba not seen by the administration as a high foreign policy priority compared to the Middle East or Asia, but also because of the ability of anti-Castro hard-liners in the Senate, especially New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez (who could become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee if John Kerry becomes secretary of state), Florida Republican Marco Rubio, and newly elected Texas Republican Ted Cruz, to hold up unrelated ambassadorial appointments and use other procedural manoeuvres to frustrate Obama’s policies.

Still, the fact that Latin American countries have become increasingly insistent that Washington’s embargo constitutes a major impediment to improved hemispheric ties – Cuba will chair the two-year-old Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) next year – will likely affect Obama’s calculus.

Cuba’s key mediating role to end the four-decade-old civil war in Colombia, on which Washington has spent some eight billion dollars over the past decade, could also provide an external push toward normalisation, according to Thale.

“There’s more pull from the region and there’s less resistance for improving ties,” he said.

*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.

 
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  • http://templeofreason.org/news Andrew Stergiou

    Yo buddy I love a good thought up story fabricated as you do with that much emotion but you’t don’t think the Cuban vote for Obama was because he is more conservative than Nixon and the Republicans had these idiot Cuban in advertisements ridiculously comparing President Obama in typical McCarthyite fashion to “Fidel Castro” the “Communist”. Articles like yours disgust me it has a lot of blah blah blah and not real substance really pompous.

  • http://templeofreason.org/news Andrew Stergiou

    Yo buddy I love a good thought up story fabricated as you do with that much emotion but you’t don’t think the Cuban vote for Obama was because he is more conservative than Nixon and the Republicans had these idiot Cuban in advertisements ridiculously comparing President Obama in typical McCarthyite fashion to “Fidel Castro” the “Communist”. Articles like yours disgust me it has a lot of blah blah blah and not real substance really pompous.

  • fidel castro

    Rubio campaigned hard for the I-4 corridor Puerto Rican vote and it went 83% for Obama. Rubio campaigned hard for the Cuban-American vote and in a historical vote Cuban-American went over 51% for Obama. Rubio had to deliver Florida but Obama won. Rubio has to mature and get away from the old Batista crowd in Miami, support the DREAM act, denounce the Arizona law, forget his support of english as official language in Florida, avoid supporting the GOP voter suppression in Florida and move center left if he wants to avoid being a one term senator.

  • fidel castro

    Rubio campaigned hard for the I-4 corridor Puerto Rican vote and it went 83% for Obama. Rubio campaigned hard for the Cuban-American vote and in a historical vote Cuban-American went over 51% for Obama. Rubio had to deliver Florida but Obama won. Rubio has to mature and get away from the old Batista crowd in Miami, support the DREAM act, denounce the Arizona law, forget his support of english as official language in Florida, avoid supporting the GOP voter suppression in Florida and move center left if he wants to avoid being a one term senator.

  • RichardKanePhilaPA

    For a while segregationists got less votes in Exit Polls, than at the
    Ballot Box, the conclusion ended up being people don’t want to admit
    in public that they voted for segregationists. Were the exit polls
    where Obama won the Cuban vote more private and discrete and harder
    for the voter reluctant to be interviewed to avoid. Maybe several
    elderly Cubans after discovering their close realities and friends
    actually agree with their embarrassing vote, can go public in
    avoiding the poll taker.

    There are other ways the Republican base unraveled, such as Orthodox
    Jews voting for Obama. Muslim hating candidates lost. Ron Paul
    libertarians won in the house, and Council for a Liveable World won
    every race expect the ones they didn’t fight for due to falsely
    expecting those races not to be competitive, and one candidate who
    tried particularly hard to claim she wasn’t a peace activist, and a
    semi-libertarian who fights hard to end the embargo on Cuba., and
    actually voted against Afghan surge appropriations. Since the wrong
    person is scheduled to become chair on Cuban issues,
    November-December is exciting time to fight to end the embargo, and
    overseas military bases. Uniting to end the war now is tricky since
    al Qaeda for one wants western bankruptcy not peace and will cheer
    not sabotage western peace activists only when it comes to drone
    warfare. Cuba on the other hand could be counted on to make symbolic
    basic change in the face of an upcoming November or December anti
    embargo vote. Later identical changes would be interpreted as Cuba
    giving in to the US government. And not be part of a US progressive
    swing.

  • RichardKanePhilaPA

    For a while segregationists got less votes in Exit Polls, than at the
    Ballot Box, the conclusion ended up being people don’t want to admit
    in public that they voted for segregationists. Were the exit polls
    where Obama won the Cuban vote more private and discrete and harder
    for the voter reluctant to be interviewed to avoid. Maybe several
    elderly Cubans after discovering their close realities and friends
    actually agree with their embarrassing vote, can go public in
    avoiding the poll taker.

    There are other ways the Republican base unraveled, such as Orthodox
    Jews voting for Obama. Muslim hating candidates lost. Ron Paul
    libertarians won in the house, and Council for a Liveable World won
    every race expect the ones they didn’t fight for due to falsely
    expecting those races not to be competitive, and one candidate who
    tried particularly hard to claim she wasn’t a peace activist, and a
    semi-libertarian who fights hard to end the embargo on Cuba., and
    actually voted against Afghan surge appropriations. Since the wrong
    person is scheduled to become chair on Cuban issues,
    November-December is exciting time to fight to end the embargo, and
    overseas military bases. Uniting to end the war now is tricky since
    al Qaeda for one wants western bankruptcy not peace and will cheer
    not sabotage western peace activists only when it comes to drone
    warfare. Cuba on the other hand could be counted on to make symbolic
    basic change in the face of an upcoming November or December anti
    embargo vote. Later identical changes would be interpreted as Cuba
    giving in to the US government. And not be part of a US progressive
    swing.

  • RichardKanePhilaPA

    Helpful links relating to the need to end the embargo now before the
    new Congress takes office, sent separately since other sites get
    nervous when they see a lot of links in comments.

    http://news.yahoo.com/dramatic-leap-orthodox-jewish-vote-obama-accompanied-radio-050300209.html

    Related to the above link those who clam US Jews are foreign agents
    unwittingly push Jews in a direction that the Prime Minister of
    Israel falsely began to believe.

    http://spencerwatch.com/2012/11/07/election-2012-islamophobes-lose-big/

    http://www.rpv.org/node/1855

    http://blog.livableworld.org/tag/Senate%20Election%20News

    http://dailycaller.com/2012/11/07/ron-paul-republicans-win-house-races/

    http://readersupportednews.org/pm-section/22-22/14422-world-peace-the-opportune-moment-is-now

  • RichardKanePhilaPA

    Helpful links relating to the need to end the embargo now before the
    new Congress takes office, sent separately since other sites get
    nervous when they see a lot of links in comments.

    http://news.yahoo.com/dramatic-leap-orthodox-jewish-vote-obama-accompanied-radio-050300209.html

    Related to the above link those who clam US Jews are foreign agents
    unwittingly push Jews in a direction that the Prime Minister of
    Israel falsely began to believe.

    http://spencerwatch.com/2012/11/07/election-2012-islamophobes-lose-big/

    http://www.rpv.org/node/1855

    http://blog.livableworld.org/tag/Senate%20Election%20News

    http://dailycaller.com/2012/11/07/ron-paul-republicans-win-house-races/

    http://readersupportednews.org/pm-section/22-22/14422-world-peace-the-opportune-moment-is-now

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