Panther Voices: Sentiment toward Cuba embargo changing as community changes

This week marks 50 years of the United States embargo on all trade with Cuba. Since 1991, FIU has polled South Florida Cuban-Americans to gauge sentiment toward the embargo. The poll shows support for the policy eroding. As part of FIU News’ Panther Voices series, lead investigator and sociology professor Guillermo Grenier shares the findings.

If there was ever a consensus among Cuban-Americans in Miami about the effectiveness and necessity of the embargo, it dissolved many decades ago.

In 1991, Hugh Gladwin, director of FIU’s Institute for Public Opinion Research, and I began surveying the Cuban-American community on their attitude toward the embargo as part of  the FIU Cuba Poll, a detailed survey designed to measure the political attitudes of the Cuban-American community in South Florida. The community’s attitudes toward the embargo reflect the diversity of Cuban-Americans and their vision of U.S.-Cuba relations.

The first year we conducted the poll, approximately 87 percent of Cuban-Americans in, then, Dade County favored the continuation of the embargo. In subsequent years, that number has steadily decreased. The steepest decline occurred after 2000, bottoming out in November of 2008 when fewer than 50 percent of our community supported the continuation of the embargo.

The latest poll – completed in Sept. of 2011 and funded by the Ford Foundation, the Cuban Research Institute and the Department of Global and Sociocultural  – showed an increase to approximately  50 percent in support, well below its heyday. This, despite 80 percent believing that the embargo has not worked very well or not well at all.

The embargo remains a strong symbol of the alliance between the “exile” community and the U.S. government. For 50 years, it has offered a vision, born of the Cold War, of how to achieve “regime change” on the island. This (nerf) stick of power has not dealt the death blow its crafters hoped.

When Cuban-Americans are asked about specific restrictions of the embargo, they show a willingness to introduce some new approaches into the policy mix. Seventy-five percent support U.S. companies selling medicine to Cuba (up from 50 percent in 1993). Sixty-five percent favor selling food (up from 23 percent in 1993). Fifty-seven percent would like to see all travel restrictions lifted to the island for ALL Americans (up from 44 percent in 1991). And more than 60 percent are against any legal restrictions to the number of trips or amount of remittances Cuban-American can send to relatives on the island.

Attitudes in the community are changing because the community itself is changing. Approximately 35 percent of Cuban-Americans living in Miami-Dade arrived from Cuba after 1994. These are the members of our community who are more likely to have personal as well as emotional links to the Cuba of today. Only 40 percent of these new Cubans have become citizens, however, and of these, only 35 percent are registered to vote.

We all have an opinion on the embargo and other elements of U.S.-Cuba policy. But only citizens with a vote can change policies. It is up to the new wave of Cubans to revamp the vision of how change can occur in modern Cuba.

— Guillermo Grenier