Cuba

Poll of Cuban-Americans shows support for new Cuba policies growing

Javier Yanez hung a U.S. and Cuban flag on his Old Havana balcony on Dec. 19, 2014 — two days after Cuba and the United announced they planned to renew diplomatic ties.
Javier Yanez hung a U.S. and Cuban flag on his Old Havana balcony on Dec. 19, 2014 — two days after Cuba and the United announced they planned to renew diplomatic ties. AP

A new national poll of Cuban Americans shows that their support for the White House's new Cuba policy has grown in the three months since the historic announcement, and now 51 percent say they support the effort to begin normalizing relations with Cuba.

Forty percent said they disagreed with the new policy and 9 percent didn’t respond or said they didn’t know, according to the poll by Bendixen & Amandi International.

Cuban Americans living outside Florida have embraced the new policy much more than those residing in the Sunshine State, according to the poll. Attitudes also diverge between older Cuban Americans born on the island and younger generations.

Forty-nine percent of Cuban Americans living in Florida said they disagreed with the effort to normalize relations while 41 percent said they agreed. However, 69 percent of Cuban Americans living outside the exile stronghold of Florida said they agreed with the new policy.

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points, will be unveiled Wednesday in New York at the sold-out Cuba Opportunity Summit, a conference for senior level business executives interested in exploring business opportunities in Cuba.

Bendixen & Amandi International polled 400 Cuban Americans 18 and older March 20-25 in English or Spanish on their attitudes toward the new policy. It includes renewing diplomatic relations with Cuba, allowing more Americans to travel to the island, raising remittance levels, cooperating with Cuba on areas of mutual interest such as environmental protection, and increased commercial ties even as the U.S. trade embargo against the island remains in place.

The methodology for the new poll, which was designed and financed by Bendixen & Amandi International, is similar to that used in a flash poll by the firm that was commissioned by the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and the Tampa Bay Times shortly after the Dec. 17 announcement that the United States and Cuba would work toward normalizing relations.

In the December poll, 48 percent of the Cuban Americans polled said that they disagreed with President Barack Obama’s announcement, while 44 percent said they agreed.

Fernand Amandi, a principal of the polling firm, said the seven-point shift toward agreement in the most recent poll surprised him. But he added that, “In the immediate aftermath [of the policy shift] many people were stunned into silence by the nature of the announcement.”

When it came to a question of whether the president’s announcement was good for people on the island or good for the United States, respondents were more pessimistic about the policy’s efficacy for the United States.

When asked directly, only 7 percent said it was good for the United States, perhaps indicative of a nagging feeling by some in the Cuban-American community that Cuba got the better end of the deal. However, 25 percent volunteered that it was good for both Cuba and the United States.

Twenty-nine percent said the announcement was good for people on the island, but 28 percent also volunteered that it was good for neither the United States nor the Cuban people.

Those surveyed were more positive when it came to easing restrictions on travel between the United States and Cuba. Fifty-six percent said they favored the move, while 35 percent said they opposed it. In December, only 47 percent said they favored easing travel.

Those living in Florida also favored freer travel, with 46 percent in agreement and 43 percent opposed. Overall, 67 percent of those polled said they planned on traveling to Cuba in the near future.

Once again, there was a split on the travel question between younger generations and older Cuba-Americans born in Cuba. Of those born in Cuba, 75 percent said they had no Cuba travel plans in the near future and 83 percent of those 65 and older said they wouldn’t be traveling to Cuba any time soon.

In contrast, 49 percent of those aged 18 to 29 said they planned to travel to Cuba soon, and 25 percent of those aged 30 to 49 said they had near-term travel plans.

Older Cuban-Americans 65 years-plus also were more supportive of the embargo, with 45 percent saying it should continue and 36 percent saying it shouldn’t (19 percent said they didn’t know or didn’t respond). In contrast, 51 percent of those 18 to 29 said the embargo should end, and 56 percent in the group of 30- to 49-year-olds said it shouldn’t continue.

“The opposition to the new policy is concentrated in older, Cuban-born exiles who came in the early days of the exile experience,” Amandi said.

Despite the differences of opinion within the community, “what continues to unite Cuban-Americas is their antipathy for the current Cuban regime and the Castro brothers,” said Amandi.

“It’s no longer surprising that a majority of Cuban Americans support a new course on Cuba policy; it’s exactly what the trend lines have been pointing toward for years,” said Ric Herrero, executive director of #CubaNow, whose mission is inspiring a new conversation about Cuba.

“Cuban Americans, like all Americans, recognize that we can do more to empower the Cuban people and advance the cause of human rights through engagement rather than isolation,” he said.

Even though the poll indicates shifting attitudes, the Cuban-American delegation in Congress has lined up in strong opposition to the president’s new Cuba policy.

“The most important poll takes place every two years and that is the election,” said Frank Calzon, executive director of The Center for a Free Cuba, an Arlington, Virginia, institution dedicated to promoting human rights and a democratic transition in Cuba. “There are three Cuban-American senators and four members of the House. They represent the views of the Cuban-American community, not a poll.”

South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen agreed. “The ultimate test of any policy is on Election Day and the Cuban-American community has shown strong support for the embargo and a policy which fights for the rights of the Cuban people,” she said. “What is undeniable is the President’s concessions have not led to an increase in freedom on the island nor has it ensured that fundamental basic human rights are respected by the communist dictatorship in Havana.”

For the first time, the poll also asked questions about the new commercial opening toward Cuba that the Obama administration is trying to promote.

Fifty-eight percent said that companies owned by Cuban Americans living in the United States should be able to sell their products in Cuba, and 56 percent said that businesses owned and operated by independent Cuban entrepreneurs should be able to sell their products in the United States.

The new Cuba policy allowed Americans to provide funding for independent businesses owned and operated by Cubans on the island.

Sixty-six percent of poll respondents agreed that they should be able to help the independent businesses of friends and family on the island by providing funds, and 62 percent said U.S. companies should be able to sell their products in Cuba.

“On some of the corporate investment questions you saw the two communities come together,” said Amandi, with both long-term exiles and younger Cuban-Americans agreeing.

However, when asked if they intended to invest in Cuba — if it becomes legal — 72 percent of those polled said no. Among the main reasons they cited: too risky; Cuba is still communist; don’t have the money; lack of interest; and the Castro brothers are still in power.

Poll of Cuban-Americans

Do you agree or disagree with President Obama’s announcement to begin normalizing relations with Cuba?

All respondents:

Agree: 51 percent

Disagree: 40 percent

Don’t know/no answer: 9 percent

Respondents living in Florida:

Agree: 41 percent

Disagree: 49 percent

Don’t know/no answer: 10 percent

Respondents living in the rest of the U.S.:

Agree: 69 percent

Disagree: 23 percent

Don’t know/no answer: 8 percent

Source: Bendixen & Amandi International

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