This week, when the Miami Herald released its survey of 400 registered voters in Miami-Dade County, it contained startling results, including a finding that the Cuba issue is not having much effect on Florida’s race for governor. (This is not something you would have guessed reading the Herald’s headline: Cuban voters weigh Crist down in Miami-Dade.)
A few days ago, Public Policy Polling released a poll showing a majority of Floridians supporting an end to the embargo.
Next week, the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University will release results from its 2014 survey of Cuban Americans in South Florida.
So, there’s a flood of new data. Since public opinion research had a rocky week in Washington – just ask Rep. Eric Cantor, or, even better, ask his pollster – we thought it would be a good time to look at recent surveys on Cuba policy and think about how public opinion affects public policy.
If foreign policy issues turned less on how politicians calculated their domestic political interests and more on how public servants weighed the national interest, U.S. policy toward Cuba would have changed long ago.
After all, Mikhail Gorbachev ended the Cold War before the invention of the Internet. U.S. intelligence agencies, in a report published in 1997, said “Cuba does not pose a significant military threat to the U.S. or to other countries in the region.” Foreign policy elites – including diplomats known to fear communist influence in the region – recently united behind a letter to President Obama urging meaningful changes in the policy.
As with national experts, public opinion in the U.S. settled the Cuba debate decades ago. Since 1974, as Gallup reported, “a majority of Americans have consistently said they support establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba, with the exception of one poll conducted in 1996.”
Yet, the policy, conceived in the Cold War, is largely unchanged. This produces truly loopy outcomes – consider a recent House-passed defense bill that prohibits U.S. cooperation with Cuba on efforts to control drug trafficking despite Cuba’s exemplary record in this area – along with the more troubling and continuing U.S. efforts to overthrow Cuba’s government.
Cuba continues to be, as the Atlantic Council says, “the third rail of Latin American foreign policy in the United States,” thanks, as the data consistently shows, to inaccurate positioning of Florida’s importance in electoral politics.
Until the 2008 presidential campaign, when Senator Obama promised to reopen family travel to Cuba, and expressed his willingness to negotiate with Cuba’s government, no serious candidate – Democrat or Republican – promised anything less to Florida voters than complete loyalty to the Cuba sanctions agenda. Until former Secretary Clinton released her memoir last week, no serious contender offered to undo the embargo before declaring for the White House.
The received wisdom for standing behind a failed policy was simple. Candidates were told they could not win office, nationally or locally in Florida, without carrying the Cuban American community, because it was resolutely opposed to normalizing relations with Cuba’s government.
That is why we suggest paying close attention to the data released this year, this week, and next Tuesday.
In February, the Atlantic Council released a comprehensive survey that found substantial support nationally for normalizing relations with Cuba (56% to 35%) but even greater support in Florida for re-engaging. Floridians supported normalizing relations by a 63% to 30% margin, and approved of eliminating all restrictions on travel by 67% to 29%.
Public Policy Polling, which conducted a Florida survey this month, recorded 53% of Floridians, including 64% of independents and 57% of Democrats, supporting an end to the embargo with only 22% of respondents in support of maintaining the embargo.
But the bigger news came in a Miami Herald poll, which tested voter preferences in Miami-Dade County for Florida’s upcoming Governor’s race. As we previously reported, former Governor Charlie Crist astounded observers when he called for ending the embargo and announced plans to visit Cuba in the midst of his campaign against the incumbent Governor Rick Scott.
Crist’s announcements have had no effect on the state’s most feared voters. Despite losing the county’s Hispanic vote, the Herald reports that Crist leads Governor Scott by a 47%-35% margin; sustained by 84% support among African-American voters, 58% support among “White Anglo” voters, and a 49% to 49% split among voters of Cuban descent born in the U.S. More telling, 67% of all respondents said that Crist’s Cuba position had no impact on their vote.
Given the link between public opinion in Florida and public policy on Cuba in Washington, these results are really important.
In recent years, hardliners have demonstrated they will not give up the perception of their lock on Florida’s votes without a fight. In 2008, they predicted Obama would lose Florida when he promised to restore family travel. He won 35% of the Cuban vote, won Florida, won the election, kept his promise, and family visits surged from 50,000 in 2004 to nearly half-a-million in 2013.
When the President restored people-to-people travel in 2011, Capitol Hill Cubans called it a sure way to lose votes. After he won Florida by a larger margin in 2012 than he did 4 years before, and split the Cuban vote with Governor Romney, Mauricio Claver-Carone said, “I have a problem with exit polls,” and his organization later issued a report aimed at disproving Cuban American support for the President. When the Atlantic Council poll demonstrated vast support in Florida for changing the policy, he and others denounced it as a push-poll.
This is why we’re eager to see the 2014 results from the Florida International University poll, the longest-running survey of public opinion in the Cuban American communities of South Florida. When FIU began its project in 1991, 87% of Cuban Americans favored keeping the embargo in place without changes. When FIU released its last survey in 2011, that figure had fallen to 56%. We won’t be surprised if the 2014 results – in line with these other findings – show even less support among Cuban Americans for the embargo.
Two points in conclusion. At t a time when more than 400,000 Cuban Americans are returning to the U.S. after visiting their families on the island each year, it’s hard to imagine that they are unaffected by what they see. As these visits affirm that travel to Cuba helps their families, Cuban American support for further reforms in the policy, in our judgment, is likely to grow. So, we predict more positive movement in the FIU poll (thanks, we should say, to President Obama’s family travel policy).
Alternatively, if you prefer to believe that nothing has changed, you can consult the Capitol Hill Cubans website. There, you will find a presentation from 2009 showing that the existing embargo policies are strongly supported by the Florida Cuban-American community. Keep in mind, the analysis is based on a survey by McLaughlin and Associates, Eric Cantor’s pollster.
Still, you can’t predict polls. With you, we’ll wait to see what the Florida International University survey says next Tuesday.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, June 12 about her book Hard Choices. Richard N. Haass, president of CFR, led the discussion. Among other topics, Clinton talked about the revelation in her book that she advocated privately for loosening the embargo on Cuba as Secretary of State.
Secretary Clinton offered several reasons for supporting changes in U.S. policy, including her belief that the U.S. needs to “change the psychology of this issue.” She said that moving on the embargo would eliminate the opportunity for Cuba and other Latin American countries to place blame on the U.S. for the stagnation of U.S.-Cuba relations. She also measured the impact this would have on the foreign relations of the U.S. in general:
“Probably the most important long-term commitment this country can make is to a much closer, more constructive relationship within our own hemisphere. And if we do that, we will be much better positioned to deal with all else that goes on in the world. It will be difficult to get it to the point I would like to see it unless we clear away the accusations against the United States over the embargo.”
In a report on Secretary Clinton’s “Hard Choices” interview on NPR, reporter Frank James sees Clinton’s public opposition to the embargo as “something close to a sea change in American politics.”
The Havana Times suggests that U.S. policy toward Cuba could become a major issue in the 2016 presidential election if the contest is between likely candidates Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) and Clinton. Rubio criticized Clinton’s support of normalization, saying, “Now we see how far Secretary Clinton came to undermine the defenders of democracy in Cuba to try to help the Castro regime get more dollars with which to continue their repression.”
The CFR discussion of Cuba starts at the 34:50 mark of this video.
In the same week that Public Policy Polling released results from its survey showing that 53% of Florida voters want to end the embargo and only 22% want to continue it, the Miami Herald/Nuevo Herald released its own poll, looking only at voters in Miami-Dade County. It focuses on Cuba policy and examines the impact on the preferences of Cuban-American voters, following the announcement by gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist that he plans to visit Cuba and supports lifting the embargo.
The poll, conducted June 3-5 by Bendixen & Amandi International, sampled 400 Miami-Dade registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.3 percentage points. Overall, Crist leads the incumbent Governor Rick Scott by a margin of 47-35%, with 18% undecided. To put these numbers in perspective, Crist led Scott in March 2013 by a margin of 50% to 34% according to a survey conducted by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
The Herald reports that Crist’s positions on Cuba are hurting him politically among certain survey respondents in the Miami-Dade electorate:
“Cuban American voters, who accounted for more than half of Hispanics polled and dominate the county’s political power structure, back Scott over Crist 58-30 percent. Hispanics overall account for 55 percent of the county’s 1.3 million registered voters.”
However, the Herald also reports, “67 percent say Crist’s Cuba position makes no difference in their vote between him and Gov. Rick Scott.” In its demographic breakdowns, the poll shows that Crist has a sizable lead among blocs identified as “White Anglo” and “Black,” and among voters ages 18-64. Scott leads in the crucial senior citizen demographic, by a margin of 7%. Seniors comprise a quarter of Miami-Dade voters. The candidates are tied among U.S.-born Cuban voters.
A series of planned events called “Five Days for the Cuban Five,” held from June 4-11, included a concert by hip hop group Dead Prez on Friday, June 6 and a rally outside the White House on Saturday, June 7. The White House rally drew 500 people to Pennsylvania Ave., reports the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five.
René González and Fernando González, the two released members of the Cuban Five, participated from Havana in a video conference with U.S. panelists on Tuesday, June 10, reports EFE. The panelists, along with René and Fernando, said that they felt encouraged by recent pushes for change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, but emphasized that now the U.S. government needs to act.
The U.S. Department of State issued a statement on Thursday condemning Cuba’s government for its recent detentions of pro-democracy activists. The State Department said that among the detained were Jorge Luis García Pérez (“Antúnez”) and his wife, Yris Pérez Aguilera; Berta Soler, spokesperson for Ladies in White; and Angel Moya, Soler’s husband. In addition, journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra claimed that a “plainclothes agent” beat him, UPI reports. Over forty dissidents in total were detained, and most were released the same day.
One day earlier, Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen issued a statement about the arrests, which read in part: “The Obama administration must immediately condemn this new repressive wave and stop providing concessions to the Castro regime.”
Experts from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) visited Santiago de Cuba from Wednesday, June 11 to Friday, continuing USGS’s cooperation with Cuba on earthquake tracking, reported Progreso Weekly. The group toured Oriente University and Cuba’s National Seismological Service and met with Bladimir Moreno Toirán, the director of Cuba’s National Center for Seismological Research, the agency of the Ministry of Science that monitors earthquakes.
Cuba is prone to earthquakes because it lies atop the Oriente fault line. The largest earthquake in Cuba this year was a 5.0 magnitude quake on January 9.
“Coincidentally,” Progreso reported, “a 3.2-magnitude tremor shookthe area as the Americans arrived for their meeting with Moreno.”
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
The United Arab Emirates will open its own embassy in Cuba, reports Cuba Standard. The UAE government will also be opening embassies in Angola and Mozambique, as well as a consulate in Toronto.
While statistics vary, there are approximately 104 foreign embassies and consulates in Cuba. The U.S., which does not recognize Cuba’s government, signed a bilateral agreement with Cuba during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, which permits both countries to operate “Interests Sections” in Havana and Washington.
Roberto Veiga and Lenier González Mederos, editors of the Catholic magazine Espacio Laical, announced their departure from the publication, reports the Associated Press. The two men have edited the magazine, a project of the Havana Archdioceses’ Felix Varela Cultural Center, for a decade. Veiga and González announced their departure in an email to colleagues and friends:
“We want to inform you that after a decade of hard work, in which we sought to help build roads for prosperity and stability in our country, we have been dismissed as Editor and Vice-editor of the magazine…It’s been a pleasure being able to share with you during this time, clinging to the belief that building a better Cuba is possible. Without you this beautiful adventure would not have taken place.”
The AP reported that Veiga and González had submitted their resignations on May 2, but the magazine only now accepted them. Café Fuerte and several other sources had originally reported that the editors were dismissed.
Veiga and González issued a clarifying message confirming that they chose to resign, and explaining that they had noticed divisions the magazine was causing in the Church community, and felt that:
“It was not morally right to continue managing a publication that was provoking divisions within our own ecclesiastic community, which contains the positions of those who think that the Church should not interfere ‘in politics’ and those who think that it should not open its spaces to all the members of Cuban civil society. In this sense…we came to understand the impossibility of maintaining the editorial line of the magazine Espacio Laical as it has been…”
The magazine, a publication of the Archdiocese of Havana is overseen by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana. The editors say that on two previous occasions they had submitted their resignations to Cardinal Ortega; however, the Cardinal had not accepted the resignations until now.
The publication has come to represent a space for dialogue-based, politically moderate debate in Cuba. Espacio Laical is described by the AP as “a rare exception” to government-controlled media, publishing both pro-government and critical articles written by authors from both within and outside of Cuba. The online version of the magazine describes its objectives:
“We want to create a space for everyone. A space for different spheres of social, political, economic, and cultural activity…, with the purpose of inserting ourselves and contributing in a humble way to the creative work of a society that is more prosperous and fraternal every day.”
Gustavo Andujar, the director of Espacio Laical, said that a new team would take over following Veiga and González’s departure, and that the magazine “will have its defenders and detractors, just like now, though criticisms and praise will not necessarily have the same content or come from the same groups as now.”
The bodies of four homicide victims have been found west of Havana, reports the BBC. According to state newspaper Granma, the bodies were found on Tuesday, June 10 in the municipality of Bauta in Artemisa province. According to Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior, the deaths were related to a plan to leave the country illegally “with outside support,” and six individuals have been detained in relation to the deaths.
The Santiago de Cuba municipality is renting vacant commercial properties to private businesses as part of a larger urban renewal project for its historic district, reports Cuba Standard. The Office of the Curator in Santiago is directing the project. Those leasing the buildings will pay rent based on their budget and the type of business they are running. Rent will include the cost of any renovations to the buildings. Santiago’s strategy is important, writes Cuba Standard, because it differs from that program in place in Old Havana, where the state oversees all businesses in the historic district.
Secretary Clinton’s Bold Stroke, Sarah Stephens, Huffington Post
CDA director Sarah Stephens analyses the significance of Secretary Clinton’s announced opposition to the U.S. embargo on Cuba in her book, Hard Choices.
Sanctions Now The Weapon Of Choice, David Jessop, The Jamaica Gleaner
Last week, the U.S. announced $8-10 billion in fines against BNP Paribas, a French bank, for alleged violations of U.S. sanctions and anti-money laundering laws, including sanctions against Cuba. France’s Foreign Minister has described the measure as “unfair, unilateral, and irrational.” A top executive for BNP Paribas, Chief Operating Officer Georges Chodron de Courcel, is stepping down in the midst of the investigation, reports the AP.
Time for an evolution in U.S. policy on Cuba, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Washington Post
After her return from an educational trip to Cuba, Katrina vanden Heuvel writes on the Cuba embargo, which she calls a “self-destructive Cold War policy,” and advocates for changes by President Obama in U.S. policy before the window of opportunity closes and the 2016 campaign begins.
Returning to Cuba with hands full, José Jasán Nieves Cárdenas, Progreso Weekly
“While many Cubans still base their life hopes on permanent emigration, a growing number of compatriots are returning to their homeland,” Nieves writes. He goes on to address the phenomenon of émigrés returning to Cuba to invest in new businesses, profiling two people who have done so.
Veiga, González leave Espacio Laical; what’s next for Cuban dialogue?, Manuel Alberto Ramy, Progreso Weekly
Ramy asks what the future will be for the Espacio Laical publication, after its loss of “two pillars of the most up-to-date Catholic thinking.”
Time to rethink ‘concession’ mentality on Cuba, Ric Herrero, CNN
Ric Herrero, executive director of #CubaNow, argues that the pro-embargo lobby must stop characterizing any movement forward in U.S.-Cuba relations as a “concession” to the Castros.
The Anti-Cuba Lobby Has Jumped the Shark, Chris Sabatini, Foreign Policy
Chris Sabatini criticizes defenders of the Cuba embargo for “distortions and personal attacks” against those who suggest changes in the embargo.
After Bergdahl, will U.S. and Cuba make swap involving Alan Gross?, Isabel C. Morales, CNN
Morales addresses lingering questions about a trade for imprisoned USAID subcontractor Alan Gross after last week’s prisoner swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. She details U.S. State Department responses, which focus on an argument that a trade of the remaining three of the Cuban Five for Alan Gross trade would be unequal.
A local delegation of women goes to Cuba, and returns with some surprising lessons about equality, Sara Rubin, Monterey County Weekly
Rubin writes about a trip to Cuba taken by the Democratic Women of Monterey County to learn about the position of women in “post-revolutionary, post-isolationist Cuba.”
The United States and Cuba Should Play Ball, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
In this video, former Rep. David Bonior (D-MI) reflects on his recent trip to Cuba. He talks about the experience of forming relationships with Cubans while there and how the U.S. government should “facilitate rather than prevent these kinds of connections.”
13 Photos Show a Side to Cuba You’ll Never See in the Media, Cameron Combs, PolicyMic
This piece features some photos of Cuba that show more than the shots of old cars and smoking cigars that are the go-to stock photos of Cuba in the media.