Monday, April 02, 2007

Most Cuban-Americans support changes in U.S. Cuba policies

The Kansas City Star

Posted on Mon, Apr. 02, 2007

By Vanessa Bauza

South Florida Sun-Sentinel


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Lift travel restrictions to Cuba, re-establish diplomatic relations and create a national dialogue between exiles, dissidents and the Cuban government: These are the tools a majority of Cuban-Americans surveyed support in their quest for change on the island, according to a Florida International University poll scheduled for release Monday.

The survey reflects a trend toward political pragmatism and moderation as newer waves of Cuban migrants with strong ties to their homeland arrive in South Florida, said FIU researchers who conducted the poll last month of 1,000 Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percent.

Cuban-Americans are "willing to try to precipitate that change by instituting new policies that they think will break the isolation," said Guillermo Grenier, a sociology professor at FIU who wrote the poll. "To isolate a country and then expect it to change according to your norms is counterintuitive and I think the people in the community reflect that view."

Though many Cuban-Americans celebrated Fidel Castro's debilitating surgery and handover of power in July to his brother Raul, their initial optimism has been tempered by a lack of political change on the island. Some 46 percent said they anticipated major changes in Cuba in the next five years - no change from FIU's last survey in 2004.

According to the poll results, 56 percent of those polled support the U.S. trade and travel embargo, down from 66 percent in March 2004. Some 65 percent favor establishing a national dialogue among Cuban exiles, dissidents and representatives of the Cuban government, a 10 point increase over the 2004 results, while 57 percent favored reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.

The results are at odds with U.S. policy toward Cuba, which isolates the island politically and economically.

Sixty four percent of the current respondents favored U.S. policies that allowed Cuban-Americans to travel to the island each year, rather than the current limits of once every three years, and allowed a wide range of educational and cultural exchange trips for all U.S. citizens.

The Bush administration tightened travel rules in 2004 to stem the flow of dollars to the Cuban government and spur democratic change. However, many Cuban-Americans have complained that their families have borne the brunt of the regulations. With Democrats in control of Congress, proponents of easing travel restrictions have introduced bills in the House that would allow all Americans to travel and permit financing for food sales to Cuba.

Though many in the exile community have softened their views on the embargo, strict policies are still favored by Cuban-American legislators who help shape U.S. policies. Ana Carbonell, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said the Cuban government should release all political prisoners, legalize political parties and schedule democratic elections before sanctions are eased.

"That's the very least that we can ask for," Carbonell said. She called the FIU poll a "propaganda tool used by those who want to ease sanctions and normalize relations with the regime."

Carlos Saladrigas, co-chairman of the Cuban Study Group, a Miami-based organization that supports more engagement with the island, said Cuban-American legislators and other community leaders are out of step with the majority.

"The public figures that have a voice in the Cuban-American community do not reflect the changing views of the community," Saladrigas said. "So the community can only express itself with polls like this and I think over time they will begin to express themselves at the ballot box."

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