How to Keep Losing Cuban-American Votes

Sunday, December 25, 2011
In today's Miami Herald:

How to keep losing Cuban-American votes

by Mauricio Claver-Carone

During a September round-table with Hispanic journalists, President Obama was asked whether he was concerned about a backlash from his administration unilaterally easing sanctions towards Cuba despite the fact that the Castros’ regime is still holding American development worker Alan Gross as its hostage.

The president replied that he thinks easing sanctions is an “adequate” policy and that it is supported by Cuban Americans. That “support” is frequently reported and talked about in Washington, but it’s never reflected where it counts — the ballot box.

Consider this: President Obama received approximately 30 percent of the Cuban-American vote during the 2008 election, when just about every other constituency was overwhelmingly looking for “change” after eight years of the Bush administration. Obama won Florida by only 2.5 percent. Today, he’s treading on thin ice politically. Thus, any drop in Cuban-American support could easily cost him Florida. Given Florida’s political importance, perhaps the election.

Even so, his misguided response wasn’t particularly surprising. Obama’s political rationale is based on a theory that Cuban Americans — despite consistently voting to support candidates who favor maintaining strong sanctions towards Cuba’s dictatorship — favor more travel to and engagement with the island.

This unfounded theory has been hailed by anti-sanctions advocates and political theorists alike, both unfamiliar with the Cuban-American community and propped up by the push-polls they often commission. It has been going on for decades.

Back on Dec. 5, 1965, The New York Times ran its first story that “the very active anti-Castro groups in Miami have faded into virtual obscurity.”

Then, on Oct. 10, 1974, based on “a series of interviews with members of the Miami exile community” it reported:

“Virtually all of several dozen Cubans interviewed would like to visit Cuba either to see their relatives or just their country, which they have not seen for 10 years or more; and some segments of the exile community, especially young refugees brought up and educated here, are not interested in the Cuban issues.”

Sound familiar? There’s more:

On March 23, 1975: “For the first time significant number of exiles are beginning to temper their emotion with hardnosed geopolitical realism.”

On Aug. 31, 1975: “A majority of the persons interviewed — especially the young, who make up more than half of the 450,000 exiles here — are looking forward to the time when it will be possible for them to travel to Cuba. Even businessmen, who represent a more conservative group than the young, are thinking about trading with Cuba once the embargo is totally lifted.”

On July 4, 1976: “A new generation of professionals between 25 and 35 years of age has replaced the older exile leadership.”

And now, three decades later, Obama has fallen into the same trap. A few days ago, he went as far as threatening to shut down the federal government over a provision in the FY2012 Omnibus Appropriations bill that would have tightened Cuba sanctions.

Here are the facts: The Cuban-American community has never elected a candidate to federal office who has supported lifting sanctions. In the most recent example, during the 2010 congressional race in the heavily Cuban-American 25th District of Florida, Obama’s candidate — an outspoken cheerleader for his Cuba policy — got less than 18 percent of the Cuban-American vote.

During a 2008 campaign speech in Miami, Obama said his policy would be guided by the principle of “ Libertad” (“Freedom”). During his inauguration speech, he even “extended a hand” to tyrants like the Castro brothers in the hopes that they would “unclench their fists.”

Tragically, not only did the Castros ignore Obama’s “extended hand” but it now appears the president’s gesture has also weakened the U.S. hand — proven by the fact that Alan Gross is still in a Cuban prison for helping the island’s Jewish community connect to the Internet. Moreover, the Cuban people have no more freedoms than they did two years ago. In September alone, as the president was discussing the “adequacy” of his policy, the Castro regime arrested 563 people for political “crimes.” That’s the highest monthly number of political arrests in 30 years.

Why does President Obama continue this policy of unilateral appeasement with the Castro brothers? After all, with unemployment in Florida reported to be as high as 11 percent, it would seem that Obama and his re-election campaign don’t have much wiggle room.

But hey, it’s only Florida’s electoral votes that are at risk.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and founding editor of CapitolHillCubans.com in Washington, D.C.