Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Warning to Democrats running for President: Don't drink the anti-embargo kool-aid

What the Pro-Castro lobby does not want Democratic and Republican candidates to know about Cuban American politics in Florida.

Young Cuban Americans picketed Clinton & protested Cuban embassy opening (2015)
Colton Carpenter's article "The Cuban Paradox" published in the Harvard Political Review   on December 31, 2018 offers an excellent analysis on what happened with the Cuban American vote both in 2016 and 2018.
Exit polls for the greater Cuban-American population in Florida, for example, indicate that a disproportionate amount of Cuban-Americans supported Trump compared to other Latino groups. While 54 percent of Cuban-Americans supported Trump, only 35 percent of Latinos nationwide did. Similarly, in the 2018 Florida gubernatorial election, Republican Ron DeSantis won twice as many Cuban-American votes as his Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum. A nearly identical percentage of Cuban-Americans also chose current Republican Gov. Rick Scott over Democrat Bill Nelson in the Florida senate race. The Cuban vote was solidly red in 2016 and 2018 despite the trend of Latino voters being reliably blue.
Sadly, when it comes to trends and explaining how Democrats gained and lost Cuban votes over the years Carpenter's article failed to look at the policies put forward, and relied on the usual suspects who continue to argue that Cuban Americans have been assimilated and no longer prioritize U.S. - Cuba policy. Reviewing recent history provides a different picture.

Candidate Bill Clinton in 1992 ran  as a "hardliner" on Cuba policy supporting the Cuban Democracy Act also known as the Torricelli Bill. A bill that President George H.W. Bush had initially refused to sign, but relented once Cuban exiles got Candidate Clinton's backing. As was the case with his approach to China once he got into office Clinton did an about face.

Congressman Robert Torricelli ( Democrat)
First, President Bill Clinton between 1993 and 1996 pursued a policy of engagement with the Castro regime. In 1994 the Clinton administration initiated regular contacts between the U.S. military and the  Castro regime's military that included joint exercises at the Guantanamo Naval base. This was  confirmed by Raul Castro in a December 2008 interview with Sean Penn where he stated "we've had permanent contact with the US military, by secret agreement, since 1994." Not only contacts but joint military exercises according to General Raul Castro:

"It is based on the premise that we would discuss issues only related to Guantánamo. On February 17, 1993, following a request by the United States to discuss issues related to buoy locators for ship navigations into the bay, was the first contact in the history of the revolution. Between March 4 and July 1, the Rafters Crisis took place. A military-to-military hot line was established, and on May 9, 1995, we agreed to monthly meetings with primaries from both governments. To this day, there have been 157 meetings, and there is a taped record of every meeting. The meetings are conducted on the third Friday of every month. We alternate locations between the American base at Guantánamo and in Cuban-held territory. We conduct joint emergency-response exercises. For example, we set a fire, and American helicopters bring water from the bay, in concert with Cuban helicopters.
During this period of "constructive engagement" brutal massacres of Cubans such as the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre and the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down took place. The shoot down involved two planes blown to bits over international airspace by Cuban MiGs killing three American citizens and a Cuban resident who were engaged in the search and rescue of Cuban rafters. Since it occurred while President Clinton was seeking re-election and his only options were to do nothing, military action, or toughen sanctions he opted for the latter signing the Cuban Libertad Act of 1996 better known as the Helms-Burton. Once again Bill Clinton ran as a hardliner on Cuba and was rewarded with more support from Cuban Americans at the ballot box. 

Clinton signs the Helms-Burton bill in 1996
 However once re-elected Clinton again pursued normalized relations, despite being limited by a codified embargo that he could no longer unilaterally lift because of the Helms-Burton bill that he had signed. Bill Clinton was the first sitting president to shake hands with Fidel Castro on September 6, 2000 and one month later he signed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TEFRA) that opened trade between the Castro regime and U.S. companies. Opposition in congress led to that trade not being subsidized by U.S. taxpayers through government backed credits ensuring that business would be cash and carry.

This combined with the Elian episode costs Al Gore Cuban American support in 2000 and led to the loss of Florida in a tight race. Florida would remain in Republican hands when John Kerry ran for president in 2004. He had a radically anti-embargo position and did poorly with Cuban-Americans as a result.

Candidate Barack Obama courts Cuban American votes in 2008
Barack Obama as a Chicago Senator was deeply critical of the embargo on Cuba, but when he decided to run for president, he spoke at an event hosted by the Cuban American National Foundation and announced his support for the Cuban embargo in 2008 and reaffirmed this position when he ran for re-election in 2012.

Barack Obama did not take that chance when he was running for the White House in 2008 and 2012 on a pro-embargo on Cuba platform, but was willing to risk Hillary's prospects in 2016. To be fair Hillary Clinton also bought the conventional wisdom.  

Bendixen-Amandi polls and the FIU Poll with dubious methodology have tricked more than one politician into believing that the Cuban-American community has changed and that backing a policy that legitimizes the Castro regime while human rights worsen on the island will not erode their support.

The candidacies of John Kerry (2004) and Hillary Clinton (2016) in Florida indicates that is not the case. 


  1. Bill Clinton signed Helms-Burton into law for domestic electoral purposes because he initially opposed it for the fear of harming US ties with Canada and Europe. Bob Dole told Cuban Americans that if he won the '96 election he would use an "iron resolve to bring Fidel Castro down and end his regime of terror in Cuba", but Clinton was re-elected.

    Mitt Romney tried to woo Cuban voters by airing an ad tying Obama to Mariela Castro, Che Guevara admirers, and Hugo Chavez, but his strategy failed to sway that voting bloc because the younger generation didn't seem that interested in Romney's message.

    It's quite possible that Democratic presidential hopefuls will call out Trump screwing up consular services at the US Embassy in Havana, and they will tell Cuban voters who were on Obama's side that Miami's Cuban community should trust Democrats more than the GOP to help the Cuban people economically. You told me in a previous post that Curbelo and Salazar were voted out of Congress due to increased African American voter turnout thanks to the Gillum candidacy.

    If you look at the latest FIU poll (
    ), you'll be bummed to see that US-Cuba relations no longer motivate Cuban voters to decide whom to vote for; the economy/jobs and healthcare are voting priorities, and the fact that Ron DeSantis was frightened about an Andrew Gillum governorship turning Florida into another Cuba or Venezuela could have motivated many Cuban voters to support DeSantis' conservative economic philosophy.

    1. FIU poll and Bendixen have been saying that for decades, and election day proves them wrong.You left out that Obama ran twice as a pro-embargo candidate.

    2. Canadians have also shuttered their consular services in Cuba due to harm done to their diplomats that mirror what has also happened to American diplomats there.