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Trump administration policies on Cuba seem to have found a receptive audience among Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade, with an increase in support for the U.S. embargo, according to a new Florida International University poll.
Although the overwhelming majority of Cuban Americans polled agreed the embargo has not worked — more than 80 percent — the community remains divided on whether it should be kept.
But the opinions have changed significantly since former President Barack Obama restored relations with the island’s government in 2015.
According to the FIU telephone survey of 1,001 Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade, 45 percent favor maintaining the embargo, 44 percent oppose it, and 11 percent said they don’t know or did not provide an answer.
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Those results contrast sharply with the “increased optimism toward an engagement” found by the FIU poll in 2016, when support for ending the embargo hit 54 percent, according to the pollsters, FIU professors Guillermo Grenier and Hugh Gladwin.
FIU has conducted polls of Cuban Americans in Miami since the 1990s. The 2018 version was carried out after the midterm elections in November. It has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.
Opposition to the embargo is strongest among the youth, the second and third generation Cuban Americans and those who arrived in the United States after 1995. But a majority of registered voters — 52 percent — favors keeping the sanctions.
Support for the embargo increased especially among the so-called historic exiles — those who emigrated from 1959 to 1979 and whom Trump courted during his speech in the Manuel Artime theater in Little Havana in 2017. The speech accompanied a presidential memorandum tightening restrictions on U.S. business with Cuba.
Within that group, support for the embargo rose by more than 10 percent compared to the 2016 poll.
“Cuban Americans continue to welcome and support many of the changes in U.S. policy since December 2014, such as travel, the maintenance or expansion of limited economic relations and the willingness to allow U.S. citizens to invest in Cuban businesses,” the survey’s authors wrote. “Yet, there is a retrenchment of old, less conciliatory positions by the old, less conciliatory segments of the community.”
Although 57 percent of the Cuban Americans polled still support the elimination of restrictions on travel by U.S. residents to the island — principally for tourism — that support also has eroded in the past two years. In the 2016 poll, 74 percent said they supported that change.
The reestablishment of U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba was endorsed by a broad majority, 63 percent.
Similar to what the FIU professors found in recent polls, those who arrived after 1995 and second and third generation Cuban Americans tend to support increased engagement with the island. But that opinion still does not find its way into the ballot box.
The most recent example was the midterm election in November, when Republicans “received the biggest election ‘pastelito’ from Cuban-American voters,” the pollsters wrote.
Cuban Americans who said they were registered voters gave 70 percent of their votes to GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and 69 percent to GOP U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott, close to early estimates of the Cuban-American vote. Nearly 72 percent of Cuban Americans voted for the GOP candidate for the U.S. Congress in their districts.
That’s even though the percentage of voters who have no party affiliation rose to 26 percent. The number of Cuban-American voters in Miami-Dade has remained relatively stable in recent years at about 55 percent.
The poll also provided more evidence of the links between Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.
Forty percent of the Cuban Americans in Miami polled said they send remittances to relatives and friends in Cuba, and 43 percent said they had traveled to Cuba at least once.
But the more recent arrivals maintain the closest links to the island, with 72 percent of those who arrived after 1995 saying they send remittances and 77 percent saying they traveled to the island.
One of the few issues on which the historic exiles and second and third generation Cuban Americans agree is Cuban immigration. The poll’s authors said majorities in both groups supported the Obama administration’s decision to end the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which allowed Cubans who arrived without visas to remain legally in the country.
But the question in the poll did not directly mention the policy, nor its elimination. It asked: “As it stands, all Cubans who enter the United States without the appropriate visa and do not qualify for humanitarian relief are sent back to Cuba. Do you agree or disagree with this policy?”
Another profound gap between those who were born in Cuba and abroad emerged in questions about hopes for political changes on the island. In April 2018, Miguel Díaz-Canel succeded Raúl Castro as head of the government. Castro remained as first secretary of the Communist Party and still makes the most significant political decisions.
Twelve percent of the second and third generation Cubans polled said the changes are already happening. But 57 percent of those who arrived in the 1980 Mariel exodus and 1994 rafter crisis said the changes will never happen.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres