It's broke–but don't fix it
Published May 29, 2007
Fewer than one in four Cuban-Americans believes the U.S. trade embargo
against Cuba has been effective, but 58 percent think we should keep it
anyway, according to a recent Florida International University poll.
After 48 years of abject failure, what are they waiting for? Eight
percent would be happy to lift the embargo as soon as Fidel Castro dies;
another 11 percent want his brother, Raul, gone too. The rest want even
more: economic reforms, democratic changes or both.
With an aged Fidel sidelined by illness and the Democrats in control of
both chambers of Congress, better relations with Cuba have never been so
close, and yet so far.
Despite Castro's health crisis, only 17 percent of those polled said
they expected major political changes in Cuba within a year. Proposed
changes in U.S. policy, meanwhile, still face an uphill climb to certain
The university poll, taken eight times since 1991, shows a steady but
slow erosion of hard-line, anti-Castro sentiment. That 58 percent
support for the embargo is the lowest to date, down from 66 percent in
2004. But 51 percent still support U.S. military action to overthrow
Castro, and 71 percent would support an invasion by Cuban exiles. If
democratic changes could be effected through sudden and violent means,
more than half said they would seize the moment.
Pollsters who surveyed 1,000 Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County found
that the older they are, the tougher their stance — and the more likely
they are to be registered voters. Though Fidel has already outlived many
of his most strident enemies, the exile voting bloc still carries enough
clout to swing elections. President Bush has made it clear that he
opposes any attempt to relax the U.S. policy of strict isolation of Cuba.
But Cuban-Americans are increasingly willing to soften the edges of that
policy. The university poll shows support is growing for measures that
would allow the sale of food or medicine to Cuba, and for renewed
diplomatic relations or a national dialogue between exiles, dissidents
in Cuba and government officials. Sentiment is particularly strong on
the subject of travel to Cuba. Fifty-five percent in the university poll
said they favored removing all such restrictions. One doomed House bill
would do just that, clearing the way not just for Cuban-Americans to
visit their families but for cigar aficionados to attend the annual
Habanos Festival without sneaking in through a third country.
Almost two-thirds of those polled want to return to the pre-2004 policy,
under which Cuban-Americans could visit relatives on the island once a
year. Now they can go once every three years, and only to visit
Support for relaxing travel restrictions is strongest among the younger
people who arrived in the U.S. more recently. They are more likely than
older exiles to have close friends and family members on the island.
Allowing them to visit freely is far more likely to precipitate change
in Cuba than a government policy that attempts to pressure Castro by
squeezing the Cuban people. But changes in Cuba policy, large or small,
won't fly in Washington until they fly in Miami. That will come about
not from a change of heart, but from a changing of the guard. Judging
from the poll, U.S.-Cuba relations aren't likely to improve until Fidel
— and a lot of others — are gone.