Is the New Cuba Policy Popular with U.S. Voters? ¡Sin Duda!

Next week, our friends at the Atlantic Council and Engage Cuba will release their “America’s Heartland Survey” of voter opinion in Iowa, Ohio, Tennessee, and Indiana about U.S. policy toward Cuba.

While the hard numbers won’t be out until Tuesday, we do know that the poll shows significant support for engagement in these otherwise highly conservative Middle American states.

During the last year, we’ve seen and studied eighteen surveys measuring public support for President Obama’s policy of engagement with Cuba.

With four days until the Heartland survey data is made public on November 17th, we wanted to remind you that the policies announced by the President last December 17th have real support, and predict the reactions we’re likely to hear from the hardliners who see the numbers continue to run against them.

THESE POLICIES ARE REALLY POPULAR

“We’ve found that the more information people learn about what happens in Cuba, the more [likely] they are to support U.S. policy,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.

While we disagree with Mr. Claver-Carone, a lobbyist for pro-embargo interests, on virtually everything, it turns out his position on public opinion was exactly right!

In 2015, seventeen out of eighteen surveys of U.S. opinion have shown consistent, broad-based, even deepening support for restoring diplomatic relations and lifting the bans on trade and travel.

Starting in January, polls by Pew, the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, Gallup, the Associated PressTelemundo/Marist/MSNBC, another by APCBS News, the Sunshine State Survey, and a second Telemundo/Marist/MSNBC survey found that Americans, American Latinos, and Floridians supported restoring diplomatic relations by majorities of 59% all the way to 67% in a poll taken in September.

The Pew, Florida Atlantic University, AP, Gallup, Beyond the BeltwayBendixen-Amandi (Cuban American poll), St. Leo University (Florida), Chicago Council on Public Affairs, and Telemundo/Marist/MSNBC surveys found majorities for ending the embargo in the 60 percent range and rising.  For example, the Pew poll in January tracked support for ending the embargo at 66%, but that figure grew to 72% by July.

Polls also had support for ending the travel ban as low as 56% (Bendixen-Amandi) and 59% (Gallup) but as high as 81% (CBS News).

SUPPORTERS ARE CLEAR-EYED ABOUT CUBA

In the January survey by Pew, 63% of respondents supported diplomatic relations, and 66% supported ending the embargo, without believing that these policy changes would make Cuba more democratic.  They had no unrealistic expectations that these reforms would change Cuba, but supported them nonetheless.  That’s an American interests-based rationale.

Among the 2,034 respondents to the national survey by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, respondents did not believe that changes in U.S.-Cuba relations would weaken Cuba’s government or improve political conditions on the island.  But, once again, huge majorities supported the changes in U.S. policy under way.

As the Council says in its report:

The issue of normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba seems to be more of a problem for a handful of politicians and vocal minority of the public than it is for the American public at large.  In Chicago Council Surveys from 2008-2014, two-third of Americans have consistently said that U.S. leaders should be ready to meet and talk with leaders from Cuba.

SOME PARTISAN DIFFERENCES BENEATH THE BIG NUMBERS

Despite the big numbers nationally, in Florida, among Latinos and especially among Cuban Americans, partisan divides exist on Cuba just as they do on domestic and foreign policy issues generally.  In January, for example, when the Pew poll found 66% support nationally for ending the trade embargo, Republican respondents were split 47%-47% on maintaining it versus ending it.

We know from our own experience that fair-minded opponents of the President are reluctant to support policies of his – even ones  they like – to avoid giving him a “foreign policy victory.”

The Chicago Council reminds us that Democrats and Republicans disagree on how the U.S. should lead and engage most effectively.  However, the Beyond the Beltway and other polls that find big majorities for the policy reforms, also show majority Republican support for these changes, albeit with somewhat smaller margins.

THE NUMBERS DON’T LIE AND NEITHER DO THIS MANY POLLSTERS

As the evidence piles up that Americans really do approve of this new direction in U.S.-Cuba policy, we’ve become familiar with the protests by hardliners who seek to discredit what the surveys report.

In 2014, when the New York Times told Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart that Cuban Americans and a majority of the American public supports a change in policy, he simply responded: “That is an absolute lie.”  That’s one tactic.

Another tactic is for the pro-embargo side to say that because Cuban-Americans who support the embargo are always elected and reelected from their seats in Florida, the polls must be wrong.  Mr. Clavor-Carone said it here, and a columnist who went after Ernesto Londoño and the New York Times said it here.  The only observation we’d make about this apparent non sequitur is that the Florida Supreme Court recently found those congressional districts to be in violation of the state constitution because they were drawn for partisan reasons.

When the Atlantic Council released its last Cuba survey in February 2014, the results were slimed by Elliott Abrams, a casualty of the Iran-Contra Affair, who called the survey a “push poll.”  For the uninitiated, push polls are designed with skewed questions in order to reach a pre-ordained result.

If you’d like to see what a push poll actually looks like, you can read the Cuba Issues National Survey produced last March by a research firm now affiliated with the Presidential campaign of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. It reported a bare majority of support, 51% for President Obama’s new policies, until respondents were read a list of charges against the Cuban government which, predictably, caused support to erode.

All the major associations for survey research denounce push polling, states have made them illegal, and neither the organizations responsible for the Atlantic Council’s research nor the institutions like AP and Pew quoted here, would ever engage in them.  There’s no conspiracy among all these organizations to twist the numbers.  They are real.

So, if, anyone calls The Heartland Survey a “push poll” next week, you can call that an absolute lie.

In the last year, the slow but historic normalization process has proceeded rather well.  Diplomacy is working. As we report below, U.S. and Cuban diplomats met in Washington on Monday to discuss issues involving fugitives and law enforcement.

Cuba is opening more and improved Internet hot spots, as President Obama indicated they would pursuant to last year’s agreement.

Non-tourist travel is up, such as one trip that caught our eye this week, the Pink to Pink tour that linked U.S. and Cuban breast cancer survivors, physicians, and well-wishing comrades.

Remember there is massive public support for the new policy.  We feel some sense of urgency in saying that again as we close.  There are just 435 days until a new U.S. president is sworn into office.

Today in Florida, at the s0-called “Sunshine Summit,” one candidate for the presidency, Senator Marco Rubio was asked if he’d cancel diplomatic relations with Cuba if he were elected.  “Sin duda,” he said, without a doubt.  He is not alone.

Let’s not forget, the majority of the American people want the opening with Cuba to continue and the Heartland Survey, scheduled for release on Tuesday, apparently affirms exactly that.

This week in Cuba news…

U.S. Cuba

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture visits Cuba and builds on administration momentum

Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack is in Cuba for a working visit that spans November 11 to 14.  Vilsack is the first Secretary of Agriculture to visit Cuba in over 50 years, and he follows fellow Cabinet members Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker in capitalizing on the momentum behind the President’s reforms by coming to the island for talks.

According to Cuban media, Secretary Vilsack met Wednesday with Ricardo Cabrisas, a Vice-President of the Council of Ministers, and discussed trade relations, the interests of U.S. agriculture, and impediments to trade due to the embargo.  Yesterday, Secretary Vilsack met Gustavo Rodriguez, Cuba’s Minister of Agriculture, for a meeting that EFE, the Spanish news agency, reports covered a corresponding set of issues.

This is Secretary Vilsack’s first visit to Cuba.  On the trip, he brought a delegation from the U.S. Congress that includes Senator Jeff Merkley (OR) and Representatives Terri Sewell (AL-7), Susan DelBene (WA-1) and Kurt Schrader (OR-5).

In a statement that the Secretary released prior to landing in Cuba, he noted, Food and agricultural goods are the dominant U.S. exports to Cuba, and agriculture can serve as a bridge to foster cooperation, understanding and the exchange of ideas. Expanding markets for American agriculture has been a priority for this Administration, and relationships like the one we aim to build with Cuba are crucial to continuing the momentum we have seen over the past six years.”

According to various estimates, Cuba imports 60-80 percent of its food needs, with 16 percent of that coming from the U.S. in 2014, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Since 2000, under Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSRA) which permitted agricultural exports from the U.S. to Cuba, U.S. agriculture has done $5 billion in trade with Cuba.

Recently, the volume of agricultural exports from the U.S. has fallen sharply to the lowest level since 2003. The embargo prevents the Foreign Agricultural Service and other U.S. government agencies from providing market development assistance to U.S. agricultural firms doing business with Cuba.  Cuban officials also cite the restrictions in U.S. law that impede financing of sales and credit, and favorable terms offered by Cuba’s other suppliers to explain the loss of market share despite the island’s geographic proximity to the United States.

Legislation before the Congress seeks to the principal obstacles to U.S. exports. In early October, Representative Rick Crawford (AR-1) introduced H.R. 3687, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway (TX-11) and Representative Ted Poe (TX-2). H.R. 3687 would repeal restrictions on export financing and allow the Department of Agriculture to assist with marketing programs to make U.S. firms more competitive in the Cuban market.

The House bill is similar to the Â Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2015, introduced in April by Senators Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and John Boozman (AR), which “amends the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 to permit a person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to provide payment or financing for sales of agricultural commodities to Cuba or to an individual or entity in Cuba.” Both bills await further review in committee.

Agreements on U.S.-Cuba flights by end of the year, MinRex official says

The United States and Cuba are likely to announce agreements on regularly scheduled airline flights and postal service, a Cuban official said after the U.S. and Cuba held the second Bilateral Commission on Tuesday. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western  Hemisphere Affairs Alex Lee and the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs, Josefina Vidal, led their respective delegations to discuss developments on “shared priorities, including regulatory issues, telecommunications, claims, environmental protection, human trafficking, human rights, migration, and law enforcement,” according to a statement by the U.S. Department of State.

“We are very close to the first agreements or arrangements that we could be able to announce in the next few weeks,” Josefina Vidal told reporters in Washington. Gustavo Machin, concurred that direct flights is “one of the issues that we have advanced on most and on which we are close to reaching an agreement,” AP reported. While a final deal is imminent, Machin and Vidal also emphasized the need for airlines to make deals with their respective governments before flights can be operational. An American Airlines executive recently said, “I’m personally optimistic [that regular service to Cuba will begin within the] first half of next year.”

Direct flights would facilitate travel to Cuba by eliminating the need for a third party charter service to run ticketing and check-in for flights to Cuba. Passengers would book tickets directly on airline websites instead of going through charter operators.

In an interview with The Miami Herald, Howard Kass, vice president of regulatory affairs at American Airlines, explained that “We anticipate operating to Cuba as soon as the two governments work everything out. We’re ready to go now. We look forward to going, and we think it will be a great benefit for passengers. Not just in Miami, but throughout the United States. Today, when we take somebody to Cuba, the charter process is a separate one. We can’t ticket them all the way through. Their bag check isn’t seamless.”

U.S. and Cuba also discussed security issues during Washington meeting

U.S. and Cuban diplomats also turned their attention on Monday to law enforcement. They reportedly discussed counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, transnational crime, cyber-crime, secure travel and trade, and fugitives. Both parties agreed to further technical discussions in 2016, reports the U.S. Department of State.

Representing the U.S. were Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Alex Lee and Deputy Assistant Attorney, General Bruce. Their counterparts included Abel Gonzalez Santamaria, Cuba’s Deputy Advisor of the Commission on Defense and National Security, and Ambassador Yuri Gala Lopez, Director of Bilateral Affairs Directorate General for the United States, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Official talks on law enforcement mark another development on the path toward normalization. The issue of fugitives is particularly difficult for both sides. The U.S. seeks the extradition of approximately 70 fugitives, Assata Shakur and William Morales are said to be among them, while Cuba’s government similarly seeks the return of several figures accused of committing acts of terrorism and other violent crimes against Cuba.

Talks will resume in the first half of 2016.

Increase in Cuban emigration to the U.S. via Latin America

An estimated 100,000 Cubans entered the U.S. legally and illegally over the past two years, according to Associated Press. While some Cubans arrive by raft and others obtain family reunifications visas to travel directly, most Cuban immigrants are now flying to another country in Latin America and crossing the U.S. border with Mexico. Seven in ten Cubans crossing into the United States now arrive in the U.S. from Mexico, according to VICE.

Ecuador, which stopped requiring visas for Cubans in 2008, has become the main entry point for Cubans seeking to reach the U.S through Mexico. The journey crossing Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala can take over 20 days and often requires traveling by boat and small plane, along with paying bribes. The trip from Ecuador costs from $7,500 to $15,000, according to a statement shared with The Miami Herald after a Costa Rican branch of a Cuban smuggling ring with contacts in Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, and the United States, was broken up.

Despite an agreement signed by Mexico in 2008 to deport Cubans who entered the country illegally, only seven percent of Cubans detained in Mexico are deported. Procedures at immigration centers in Mexico have relaxed significantly and Cubans voluntarily congregate outside a detention center in Tapachula to receive a visa within days; 1,500 arrived in the city last month, VICE reports.

In the most recent fiscal year, 4,500 Cubans arrived in the U.S. on rafts, according to the Coast Guard. Of these 2,900 were intercepted and returned to Cuba. Yoanni Guerra Garrido, 35, who accompanied men from Cardenas who attempted the crossing, estimates that only 40 of the 200 people from his neighborhood who have tried to leave on a raft have made it, AP reports.

Cuban migration to the U.S. has spiked since U.S. and Cuba announced the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, due to fears that the law will change and end the policy that allows those Cubans who reach the U.S. to stay. Despite Secretary of State John Kerry insisting that the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1996 is not under review. Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ-4) has prepared a bill that would repeal it, as we previously reported.

For background on the special immigration provisions that apply to Cubans seeking entry into the United States, read “10 things to know about Cuba’s special immigration benefit,” published yesterday in the Houston Chronicle.

Pentagon to list alternative U.S. sites to Guantanamo prison

The Pentagon is expected to release plans this week detailing options for closing the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

Among the many issues with normalizing relations with Cuba, the status of the detention facility remains particularly thorny. It has been a divisive policy point between the administration and Congress.

The U.S. Congress recently passed a defense bill that would block the president from moving detainees to U.S. soil, legislation he is expected to sign. Of the 112 detainees still at Guantanamo, 53 are deemed eligible for transfer.

According to Reuters, Senator Pat Roberts (KS) fears the administration will ignore the prohibition on transfers, saying “Apparently they are going to try and rule through executive order, ignoring laws passed to block any such transfers of these terrorists.” Some of the strongest opposition comes from Senators in Colorado, Kansas, and South Carolina, states cited as potential relocation sites for detainees. House Speaker Paul Ryan, said at his weekly press conference, “I think Guantanamo detainees should be in Guantanamo.”

Despite the criticism, the White House has continued to voice its support for closing the facility. Press Secretary Josh Earnest fought back by saying:

The view that Speaker Ryan is expressing is in contradiction to some of the brightest foreign policy thinkers in both parties… Speaker Ryan spends a lot of time talking about the need to shrink government budgets… Closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay makes a whole lot of fiscal sense. The amount of money that is spent per detainee in Guantanamo Bay is far higher than the amount of money that is spent to detain and incarcerate convicted terrorists on U.S. soil right now.

Although the president is likely to sign the defense bill, the administration has not entirely ruled out executive action as Press Secretary Josh Earnest revealed in his statement Wednesday saying the administration would “not take anything off the table,” a position he softened Thursday saying that this is a question for lawyers.

Update: Yankees eager to play ball in Cuba

Roughly ten MLB teams are interested in playing a spring training game in Cuba including the New York Yankees; the third most expensive sports franchise in the world.

Major League Baseball has already expressed interest in spring training in Cuba as well as working with Cuba’s government to reform the system for Cuban players to enter the MLB as we previously reported.

The issue is expected to be discussed next week at the owners and General Managers (GMs) quarterly meeting in Dallas. If the obstacles are removed, it will be the first time an MLB team travels to Cuba since the Baltimore Orioles went in 1999.

For more about the exhibition games played in Havana and Baltimore, a two-game series that the Orioles and Cuba’s national baseball team split, turn to the Baseball-Reference.com article here.

Cuba Foreign Relations

Castro concludes visit to Mexico

President Raúl Castro recently completed his first state visit to Mexico, and the first since rapprochement with the U.S. was started last December. The trip was largely symbolic as both Castro and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto moved to renew diplomatic ties.

During his trip, Presidentl Castro was presented with the “General Salvador Alvarado Medal” by Rolando Zapata, Governor of Mexico’s Yucatan state, the highest distinction awarded by the State government.  The honor was conveyed to “the historic leader of the revolution of that Antillean country, which honors men and women who carry the message of social justice, equality, dignity and solidarity.”

Castro used the opportunity to describe Cuba’s changing foreign relations. He applauded the relationship between Mexico and Cuba by saying the award “symbolizes and confirms the historic ties that exist between the Yucatan and that Caribbean nation.” He went on to denounce the U.S. embargo as “immoral and illegal” and thanked Mexico for its support against it.

Although the trip was intended to highlight future diplomacy, it is reflective of growing economic interest. Fox News Latino reports, “In an interview with EFE, Francisco Gonzalez, director of ProMexico, the organization that promotes Mexico abroad, said that more than 150 companies have approached his group over the past year-and-a-half seeking opportunities in Cuba.”

Cuba looking for “smart deal” signs agreement with Huawei to expand cell service

Late last week, as the 33rd International Trade Fair was wrapped up in Havana, Cuba’s telecommunications company ETECSA and Huawei, Chinese telecommunications equipment and services company, announced a new deal to bring smartphones to Cuba and boost voice and data quality, reports India Today. The new deal allows ETECSA to acquire smartphones and the technical expertise and parts to repair them.

Huawei’s presence in Cuba dates back over a decade. In July, the Chinese telecom set up 35 new wireless hotspots throughout Cuba and provided supercharged routers for international media during the September visit of Pope Francis. Huawei works in 170 different countries around the world.

South Africa’s government offers official support for trade with Cuba

The government of South Africa voiced its support for increased South African investment in Cuba on the heels of Havana’s 33rd International Trade Fair, reports the African News Agency.

Last Saturday, South Africa’s Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Mzwandile Masina returned from Cuba after leading a 35- member trade delegation, the first South African investment mission to Cuba.

Previous efforts, like a “Doing Business in Cuba” seminar hosted by South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry, set the foundation needed for South Africa’s successful trade delegation. South African companies appeared at the International Trade Fair in force with 19 South African companies in attendance. Masina noted, “In all our interactions with the Cubans during the two visits that I undertook to Cuba in a week, we have been reiterating the same message that we need to strengthen our economic relations and work hard in order to increase bilateral trade between the two countries.” Masina assured potential South African investors that their investments would be safe under Cuba’s new investment laws promising protection for foreign investment, bilateral agreements, and South Africa’s Export Credit and Insurance Corporation (ECIC) which would guarantee South African investments in order to promote trade activity.

Trade between South Africa and Cuba is only 49 million rand (about $3.4 million dollars); a number that officials think is low. Officials have identified 140 products for trade between the two countries. Currently, Cuba lists a portfolio of 326 investment opportunities in 12 different sectors of the economy that it hopes will generate $8.1 billion in foreign investment.

In Cuba

Chinese vessels pay goodwill visit to Cuba

This week a Chinese Naval flotilla visited Cuba as a sign of goodwill. After Venezuela, China is Cuba’s largest trading partner and a crucial source for credit. Commander Wang Jianxun commented on the visit by saying it is, “a chance to strengthen ties between the navies and armed forces of both countries…” They both “share ideals and a shared independent development path aimed at building socialism.”

Recommended Reading

Beyond Washington: America’s Heartland Supports U.S.-Cuba Engagement, Atlantic Council

On November 17th, the Atlantic Council will unveil poll results showing where voters from Iowa, Ohio, Tennessee, and Indiana stand on U.S.-Cuba policy. Major Garrett, CBS’s Chief White House Correspondent, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera,CNBC’s Chief International Correspondent, Bill Lane, Senior Director of Global Government & Corporate Affairs for Caterpillar Inc., and Glen Bolger, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies (POS) will speak on the panel moderated by Peter Schechter, the Director of Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

Marco Rubio, end the trafficking in Cuban baseball players, Gregory J. Wallance, The Hill

Presidential candidate Marco Rubio argues for allowing Cuban baseball players to enter the MLB as a test for democratic reforms ahead of lifting the embargo.

Full house: Cuba tour operators struggle to find enough hotel rooms, Mimi Whitefield, The Miami Herald

A growing number of Americans and international visitors are traveling to Cuba, squeezing the availability of hotel rooms in Havana.

In Cuba, searching for a lost past and finding a family, Christine Ammarios, AP

Reporter Christine Ammarios shares her story of reconnecting with long lost Cuban relatives on her most recent trip to Cuba.

Alejandro Irarragorri opens up about Santos’ historic match vs. Cuba, Tom Marshall, ESPN FC

Alejandro Irarragorri, President of Mexican club team Santos Laguna, discusses the team playing an exhibition match in Cuba.

Eusebio Leal visits with National Trust for Historic Preservation, Cubadebate

Eusebio Leal, the acclaimed Havana City historian, visits the U.S. for the annual convention of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington D.C. and reflects on Havana’s on-going restoration.

Recommended Viewing

Cuba’s Top Pianist Pays Homage To The Band That Launched His Career, Roque Planas, HuffPost Latino Voices

Cuban pianist, Chucho Valdes will perform a tribute show to the band Irakere. As a founding member, Valdes reflects on the group that launched his career and became a staple in Latin jazz with Afro-Cuban influences.

 

 

Until next time,

 

The Cuba Central Team

 

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