The Mariel VoteLift

[Today’s post is an open letter to the Cuban-American community.]

Cuban-American support for Republican candidates has become a major factor when analyzing the success of GOP candidates, especially in my current state of residence Florida.  Pew Research reports there are approximately 1.4 million Cuban-Americans of voting age of which 65 percent live in the Sunshine State.  And they lean heavily toward the GOP.  In 2016, 54 percent of Florida Cuban-Americans voted for Donald Trump. Likewise, Ron DeSantis carried Miami-Dade County in 2022, a usually reliable blue firewall, with even greater support among Cuban-Americans.  To attract and sustain this advantage, the Republican message to this target population has largely been (paraphrasing), “We cannot elect Democrats who will make America the kind of socialist country, you know, the exact kind of country you escaped from when you came to America.”

Makes sense, with one caveat.  It is just not true.  Before the Castro revolution in 1959, Cuba was viewed as a land of opportunity with more migrants seeking residence than leaving.  The first wave of Cubans entering the U.S. following Fidel Castro’s takeover, often referred to as “Historical Exiles,” are described by Jorge Duany, professor of anthropology at Florida International University, in his research profile “Cuban Migration: A Post-revolution Exodus Ebbs and Flows.”

The majority were urban, middle-aged, well-educated, light-skinned, and white-collar workers. Most were born in the largest cities, particularly Havana. Many fled for political or religious reasons, fearing persecution by the revolutionary government. 

After this initial wave of immigrants to the U.S., Duany lists three reasons why Cuban residents continued to relocate in America.

  • Political persecution and harassment associated with political beliefs or practices.
  • Economic hardship due to a shortage of goods and services, low wages and limited employment.
  • Family reunification, reconnected with relatives who previously left Cuba.

For a non-Cuban-American, such as myself, it is hard to understand how this history justifies an overwhelming fealty to Republican policies and especially Donald Trump.  If you came to America because of political persecution and harassment, why would you support a candidate who is running on “retribution” for his enemies?  Who has said he would arrest and jail his political opponents?  Who promises to build internment camps for immigrants?  Imagine if Donald Trump had been president in 1960 when you fled to America to escape those exact conditions.

Furthermore, many of you opposed Fidel Castro’s close ties to the Soviet Union.  Yet, you prefer a candidate who publicly praises Vladimir Putin.  And more importantly, thwarts efforts to repel Russian dominance of Ukraine, a situation not unlike what you faced in the late 1950s.

If you came for family reunification, have you forgotten it was a Democratic president Barack Obama who normalized relations with the Cuban government allowing travel to be with relatives who remained in Cuba?  In 2017, Donald Trump reimposed those sanctions and restrictions on trade and travel.

And last but not least, polls suggest you believe GOP messaging that the Democrats are an existential threat to American capitalism.  Consider the following.  Since Castro’s rise to power Republicans have held the White House for seven four-year terms and the Democrats for six terms.  The average growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during the Republican administrations has been 3.02 percent.  During Democratic administrations it is 3.98 percent.  And in those 63 years, how many U.S. industries have the Democrats nationalized?  Zero!

To be fair, any failure to make these connections between your own self-interests and allegiance to the GOP is not entirely your fault.  Democrat political leaders, especially in Florida, have not sufficiently engaged with the Cuban-American community to make the case why Democratic policies and outcomes over the past six decades are more in line with Cuban-American aspirations.  Without doing so, they should not expect, nor will there be, a change of attitude or voting behavior by Cuban-Americans.

Por lo que vale.