With a mandate from the U.S. public and the voters of Florida, Barack Obama has the perfect opportunity not only to keep his promise to end restrictions on Cuban American travel and remittances; he has the political capital to pursue an even more audacious approach. In so doing, he may be able to count on support from a majority of Cuban Americans, according to a brand new survey conducted by Florida International University (FIU).
For Cuban American progressives, the 2008 election brought both joy and disappointment. On the one hand, we celebrated the victory of Barack Obama -- the one candidate in the race who openly spoke about dialogue and a new direction for U.S. Cuba policy. At the same time, many had placed their hopes on a victory by Joe Garcia and Raul Martinez in their races against hard-line incumbents Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Those hopes were frustrated.
It is still unclear exactly what happened in these races insofar as Barack Obama won handily in Miami-Dade County at the same time that all three hard-line Cuban American Republican Representatives retained their seats. While Cubans on the right hail these results and claim that the victories by the three Cuban American incumbents mean that a hard-line stance should continue to inform U.S. policy toward Cuba, their cheers ring hollow in light of the total picture.
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For one thing, the topic of Cuba hardly came up in the campaign; these contests were not referendums on Cuba policy. Then there is the fact that, historically, Cuban American Democrats have seldom received widespread support from Anglo and African American voters -- a pattern that has never been completely explained but apparently continued in this election. Finally, the power of incumbency is great, especially in elections for the U.S. House of Representatives.
There is no question that there are still many hard core conservatives in the Cuban American electorate. John McCain won the Cuban American vote in Miami-Dade by 65 to 35 percent. But the mere fact that for the first time the Republican troika of Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen were forced to fight against credible candidates to keep their seats in Congress is itself a harbinger of change. The exit poll data that show that Obama beat McCain 55 to 45 percent among Cuban American voters under 30 is a sign of things to come.
But the crucial issue is that Barack Obama, unlike John McCain and Hillary Clinton, did not pander to the most recalcitrant sector of the Cuban American community as every serious candidate has done for decades. And that did not keep Obama from winning the presidency of the United States, the majority of the votes in Florida, or the Latino vote in the sunshine state. For the first time in recent history, the hard-line Cuban American vote was revealed as a paper tiger in the matter of making and unmaking of U.S. presidents.
With a mandate from the American people and the voters of Florida, Barack Obama has the perfect opportunity not only to keep his promise to end restrictions on Cuban American travel and remittances. He has the political capital to pursue an even more audacious approach. In so doing, he may even be able to count on support from a majority of Cuban Americans, according to a brand new survey conducted by Florida International University (FIU).
The FIU poll, taken shortly after the election, found that 55 percent of Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade oppose the continuation of the embargo and 65 percent favor the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. This is the first scientific poll of Miami-Dade Cubans to show a clear majority in opposition to the central planks of U.S. policy toward Cuba. The only demographic group in favor of maintaining the embargo and against reestablishing diplomatic relations was persons polled who were 65 years old or older.
Cuba is far down the list of issues that Barack Obama must start to deal with even before he takes up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But a change in the incredibly outdated and perverse Cuba policy pursued by every U.S. president since 1959 -- and with a special vengeance by George W. Bush -- will send an unmistakable message to the world, especially to Latin America, that here is change they can believe. Yet it is up to us, Cuban American progressives and moderates, to tirelessly remind President-elect Obama that Cuba matters.
This article was originally posted at Progreso Weekly.