Friday Puzzler

Friday Puzzler: Fear Not Cuba, Unless You’re Republican

By Barbara F. Walter

Senator Marco Rubio speaking at an event in Maryland in 2013. By Gage Skidmore.

Senator Marco Rubio speaking at an event in Maryland in 2013. By Gage Skidmore.

Republican rancor began as soon as the U.S.’s new policy toward Cuba was announced on Wednesday. “All this is going to do,” said an angry Marc Rubio, Cuban-American Senator from Florida, “is give the Castro regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to …perpetuate itself in power.” Jeb Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida, seconded the sentiment by writing that “[t]he beneficiaries of President Obama’s ill-advised move will be the heinous Castro brothers who have oppressed the Cuban people for decades.” And Ted Cruz, Republican from Texas, said it was a lifeline to the Castro brothers and would only make the situation “worse.” Clearly, Republicans hated the decision, especially those who appeared to have Presidential ambitions.

Hardline Americans might agree with angry Republicans and argue that continued sanctions are necessary for democracy to occur. But evidence points in the opposite direction. Our 50+ year embargo of Cuba has had absolutely no effect on political reform or democratization in Cuba. In fact, most experts agree that isolation has only served to bolster the regime, not lead to its demise.

Politically astute Americans are likely to argue that Republican presidential candidates are critical of the new openness because that’s what politically powerful Cuban-Americans living in Florida want. But this argument is also not correct. First, a poll of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County conducted this year found that 68 percent are open to the possibility of restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba. That number rises to 88 percent if the person is under 30. Cuban-Americans, therefore, are much more supportive of normalizing relations to Cuba than are Republican politicians. Second, the number of Cubans in Florida is now greatly outnumbered by Puerto Ricans, and other Latin and South Americans. Republican rejection of Cuba, therefore, is no longer in line with either the preferences or the demographics of the Hispanic population in Florida.

So today’s puzzler is this: If restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba is good for the United States, good for ordinary Cubans, and if it is supported by a majority of Cuban-Americans and Hispanics why do Republicans so loudly reject it?

7 Comments

  • Because there is no real major cost in them doing so, I would wager. If things do go awry in Cuba later, Republicans can chalk it up to Obama’s failures and that they were right all along. If things don’t go awry, the worst that can happen is the Republicans can admit a mistake rooted by a fair assessment of an Authoritarian regime.

    At best, they can have the moral high ground on a foreign policy blunder. At worst, they can admit they got it wrong with no big splash.

  • Like everyone else, older Cuban-Americans are more likely to vote than their younger peers who are more open to normalizing relations. I think that’s a big part of it.

    More broadly, I think Republican politicians know that they are unlikely to attract non-Cuban Hispanic voters no matter what their Cuba policy views are (because of Republicans’ immigration views; these views are more alienating to non-Cubans), so supporting the embargo is for their white base — who often hate anything Obama does, and are old enough to remember the Cold War or even the Cuban revolution.

  • “So today’s puzzler is this: If restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba is good for the United States, good for ordinary Cubans, and if it is supported by a majority of Cuban-Americans and Hispanics why do Republicans so loudly reject it?”

    Well it does kind of suck for Cuban dissidents, many of who have been imprisoned by the Castro regime, who have denounced the U.S. action as a sell-out.

    I’m open to a change in the U.S. relationship with Cuba but the President just gave up something for nothing. Cuba controls the terms of engagement here as it does with the Europeans and Canadians it does business with. These companies pay the Cuban government up to $8-10 an hour for employees and the regime pays the employees the maximum monthly wage of about $20 a month while the regime enriches itself. Do you support American companies engaging on this basis with Cuba?

  • 1) Perhaps they have genuine beliefs on the subject.

    2) Maybe they have an inaccurate sense of public opinion on the subject because of the constituents who choose to contact them.

    3) They might calculate that the only voters for whom this is a pivotal issue are all anti-normalization.

    A well-designed experiment could, perhaps, distinguish among these possibilities.

  • For some people, policy toward Cuba is about us, about our making a statement of principle, not about Cuba. The self-righteous stance is an end in itself, not a means to an end. No real outcome is anticipated either way.

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