More Cuban-Americans oppose blockade

Campaign News | Monday, 2 April 2007

New poll shows shift in opinion in Miami

WASHINGTON - A new poll released today shows that growing numbers of Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade oppose U.S. restrictions on travel to the island and favor more contacts with Havana.

The survey showed 55.2 percent of those polled favor "unrestricted" travel to Cuba, though a majority of those registered to vote opposed the option, and support for the embargo was at the lowest level since the survey was launched in 1991.

The results also show a community divided in opinions on Havana depending on the year of arrival, skeptical that a quick change will happen on the island, and attitudes that seem contradictory: A narrow majority favors a U.S. invasion of Cuba, but a bigger majority supports a restoration of diplomatic ties between Havana and Washington.

The latest poll was conducted by Florida International University, with funding from the Cuba Study Group, a moderate Cuban-American group based in Washington, and FIU's own Cuban Research Institute. The Brookings Institution, a Washington nonpartisan think tank, was part of the organizing team.

The FIU poll is unique because it is the eighth such poll in 16 years, and organizers have tried to ask questions consistent over time to get a clearer picture of how attitudes are evolving.

The latest survey also is the first since the Democratic Party seized control of Congress, which is expected to tackle several initiatives to ease U.S. sanctions on the island before its August summer recess. The poll also comes as the presidential race for 2008 is off to an unusually early start, with candidates beginning to define their position on Havana with an eye on the crucial South Florida constituency.

Carlos Saladrigas, co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group, called the timing of the survey ``critical."

The Cuba Study Group has been doing its own separate polls of the community since 2002 but decided to work with FIU this time. "By polling, we have given a voice to the broader Cuban-American community not necessarily heard through self-appointed spokespersons in the past," Saladrigas told reporters at a briefing ahead of the poll's release.

Several previous polls also have shown that Cuban-American attitudes are changing, especially among the more recent arrivals from Cuba, compared to the older exiles who generally favor stronger sanctions.

"People are seeing and recognizing the need to take a new path," said Carlos Pascual, the vice president and director of foreign policy studies at The Brookings Institution.

By unveiling the numbers in Washington, the group hopes to target U.S. government officials and other opinion leaders.

"This is a national policy issue . . . with much of the work that needs to be done here in D.C.," Brian Cullin, a spokesman for The Brookings Institution, said in an e-mail.

Brookings is organizing several private and public discussion groups on the poll, with the head of the Organization of American States José Miguel Insulza and the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America Thomas Shannon expected to attend the private sessions.

FIU surveyed 1,000 Cuban Americans in the Miami-Dade area for the poll, which has a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points. Two out of every three Cuban Americans polled are U.S. citizens, and of those, 66 percent identified themselves as registered Republicans.

The results were criticized by supporters of the sanctions as a "push poll" where the questions are phrased to influence results.

Ana Carbonell, the chief of staff of Miami Republican Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, said her office has other surveys that show a majority of Cuban Americans only support lifting sanctions if Havana meets some minimal conditions in return, like scheduling free elections and freeing political prisoners.


'This is another one of those annual `push polls' done by those who want to unilaterally ease sanctions to benefit the Castro regime, with a business interest," she said.

But the poll's organizers say the FIU questions have been broadly the same since 1991, so the trends are relevant.

The embargo is still backed by a 57.5 percent majority, but less than the 66 percent who backed it three years ago. Twenty-nine percent said they favored lifting the embargo without any preconditions, 8 percent would only do so after Fidel Castro died, and 11 percent would hold out until both Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl are gone. Thirty-five percent would wait and until the political and economic system changed in Cuba.

One of the poll's key results involves the restrictions on travel to Cuba. In 2004, the Bush administration cut back Cuban-American visits to the island to once every three years instead of once a year. The administration also has stepped up enforcement of the ban on U.S. tourist travel to Cuba.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said they would like to return to the travel rules before 2004, and 55.2 percent said they favor "unrestricted" travel to the island -- a reversal from 2004, when 53.7 percent said they opposed unrestricted travel to Cuba. The phrasing of the question included all U.S. nationals as well as Cuban Americans.

But among those registered to vote, 57.7 percent opposed allowing unrestricted travel, though a 52 percent majority favored returning to the way things were before 2004.

In keeping with other surveys, the responses vary widely depending on how long those polled have lived in the United States. For instance, only 34.4 percent of those who arrived 1974-1984 favor unrestricted travel, against 67.1 percent of those that arrived 1985-1994.


Older arrivals are more likely to be U.S. citizens and therefore more likely to vote. Throughout the survey, registered voters tended to favor a tougher stance toward Havana.

Overall, 62 percent said they back food sales to the island, up from 54.8 percent in 2004.

U.S. food exports to Cuba have been allowed since 2001, and the United States is now the fourth-largest exporter to Cuba. Similarly, slightly more than half -- 51.3 percent -- of those polled say they want to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. Havana and Washington have only "Interests Sections" that act as quasi embassies.

Few Cuban Americans believe the island will see a rapid transition toward a democracy. Only 17 percent said changes will happen in less than a year and 45.9 percent expect changes in the 2-5-year period.

Two out of every three Cubans also favor establishing a national dialogue between the Cuban government, dissidents and exiles.

In 1991, slightly fewer than half favored such a dialogue.

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