Bush's Cuba Policy Divides Cuban-American Community, Poll Shows

By Roch Hammond | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - A group that wants to end the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba has commissioned a new poll that shows a sharp decrease in support among Cuban-Americans for the Bush administration's new policy initiatives regarding Cuba.

The Bush administration has imposed additional travel restrictions and set new limits on remittances -- money that may be sent to the relatives of Cuban-Americans still living in Cuba.

Visits to relatives in Cuba will be limited to once every three years from once a year. Remittances will be limited to $100 a month and may be sent to immediate family members, which includes parents and siblings only -- no aunts, uncles, or cousins.

According to a William C. Velasquez Institute-Mirram Group poll commissioned by the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights and other groups, 38 percent of Cuban-Americans strongly agreed that they should be allowed to visit relatives in Cuba without restrictions.

Older Cuban Americans diverged sharply from younger Cuban Americans: Those over 50 years old overwhelmingly supported restrictions on travel and remittances, while those under 50, especially 18- to 34-year-olds, strongly opposed restrictions on travel and remittances.

Seventy percent of those polled agree that the U.S. government should place great importance on ousting the regime of Fidel Castro. Once again, older Cuban-Americans were most likely to express strong support for that position.

However, 59 percent of those polled strongly agreed that current U.S. policy toward Cuba is not effective.

Terrorism does not rank high on the list of concerns for the Cuban American community:
The poll found that for Latino voters, the top three issues are the economy and jobs (18%), education (13%) and immigration (9%).

The poll also found that a presidential candidate's Cuba policy is considered "very important" to 47 percent of Cuban Americans. Older Cuban Americans were the most concerned about Cuba policy.

According to the poll, 74 percent of Cuban-Americans were actually born in Cuba, while 16 percent were born in Florida and another 7 percent were born elsewhere in the United States. Seventy-one percent of Cuban-Amerians came to America before 1980.

Those arriving before 1980 and those who were born in Cuba were much more likely to favor the Bush administration's tougher policies regarding Cuba and were more likely to identify as Republicans and conservatives.

Older Cuban Americans are predominantly conservative. However, younger Cuban Americans, especially those born in America, are increasingly more likely to identify as liberal. Forty-five percent of those polled identified themselves as conservative, while 23 percent viewed themselves as moderate. Twenty-four percent called themselves liberal.

The telephone poll of 812 Cuban-American registered voters and voting-age citizens was conducted from June 29 to July 7 by trained bilingual interviewers.

Respondents were drawn from four Florida counties containing 91 percent of all Florida Cubans (Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Hillsborough). The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 3.4 points.

'Absolute wrong approach'

The House of Representatives voted 221-197 last week to reject parts of the Bush administration's new Cuba policy. The House rejected limits on baggage weights on flights to Cuba as well as limits on what types of items could be included in gift packages sent to relatives.

"The restrictions are the absolute wrong approach" said Mavis Anderson, senior associate at the Latin American Working Group, which organized the press conference at which the poll results were released.

"They do nothing to support the people of Cuba or to promote democracy or human rights. It's time for a new approach -- one of engagement and dialogue."

Geoff Thale, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, said the Bush administration's policy is intended to curtail revenue flowing to the Castro regime -- and remittances from Cuban-Americans are a large contributor to the Cuban economy.

An estimated $1 billion in remittances is sent by Cuban-Americans to their relatives in Cuba.

But Thale argues that the current policy of isolating Cuba by embargo and other measures has resoundingly failed.

Instead, Thale said engagement with the communist regime and ending restrictions on trade and travel would be more conducive to fostering reform in Cuba. "I think engagement, [ending restrictions on] trade and travel, support for democracy and human rights... [is] what we ought to do," he said.

Although the president still enjoys support among the Cuban American community, polls indicate that support has dropped since the 2000 election.

Cuban Americans have long been one of the most loyal constituencies of the Republican Party.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.