Watch the Cuban Vote in Florida


A factor in President Obama's potential victory in Florida are Cuban Americans who wish to preserve their normal liberty to travel and send remittances/investments. More than 25% of the Cuban community returned last year and an even larger percentage presumably contribute to the estimated $2 billion in annual assistance to their families, and their own future stake in Cuba.


Although not all have become citizens and vote, enough more have since 2008 that Obama can expect to increase his percentage above the 5% gain over Kerry. In addition Cuba's migratory reforms have significantly broadened the population who benefit from freedom of travel. In particular, the second phase announcement allowing return of previously excluded categories of illegal emigres affects 70,000 to 300,000  people who have lived in the US for a longer time. With little hope of visiting Cuba,  they were probably more inclined to citizenship. Will they want to give up the opportunity suddenly afforded them to return?


All these folks know that a Romney/Rubio/Diaz-Balart/Ros-Lehtinen victory will slam the door shut, returning to at least the Bush era level of restriction of travel (once every three years) and very stingy remittances.


Romney's campaign has run a scurrilous Spanish language ad in south Florida linking Obama to Presidents Chavez and Castro. Havana's denunciation of the semi-embassy US Interests Section for meddling in domestic politics is a way to say publicly that it does not have a dog in the US race.


Even though, of course it does. For more than 200 years Cuba's fate has been intertwined with the US, for better or for worse.


Only the hard liners in Cuba welcome a hard line victory in the US. The government and party recognize that an Obama victory at least keeps open the door to Cuban Americans and purposeful visitors who are affecting public and elite opinion in the US; and in the case of the former, providing much needed grass roots investment. There are few American visitors who depart believing embargo and isolation make any sense, regardless of their conclusions about Cuba's political and economic system.


Moreover, a second Obama term offers the potential of deeper change in the bilateral relationship, The denunciation of USINT also signals that Havana will continue to maintain firewalls until Washington is prepared to grant the same respect for Cuba's sovereign independence as it does to Vietnam and China.


Equally worth watching is Joe Garcia's third race for a House seat in a reconfigured district that now includes the liberal Key West,  closely linked historically to Cuba.  Garcia's likely victory over the haplessly corrupt David Rivera will break the monopoly of the ultras in Congress (Senators Rubio and Menendez, Representatives Diaz-Ballard, Ros-Lehtinen, Sires and Wasserman-Schultz) and creates the possibility he will assume a national leadership role in support of a more forward leaning second term Obama policy. 


“The Cold War hasn’t ended here – Cuba is just a few miles away, our Berlin Wall is the Florida Straits, that’s our reality,” he [Garcia] said. “[Rivera] doesn’t believe that people should see their families. Not only do I believe that, I think people have a right to see their families. I was aggressively in favor of the president’s policy and not only for that but to increase remittances and the ability for people to travel.”


Why the other side has more clout


Many Cuba activists have bemoaned that pro-travel forces which reflect the sentiment of two-thirds of Americans, including 57% of Cuban Americans, have marginal impact on the political process.  Some colleagues have tried with limited success to create a pro-normalization PAC.  A donor page in support of Obama's travel opening has attracted a bit of attention.


The regrettable Citizens United ruling allows corporations to  use their resources and identity to support candidates, and pro-Romney companies are reported by the New York Times to even be pressuring employees about how to vote.


"Until 2010, federal law barred companies from using corporate money to endorse and campaign for political candidates ­ and that included urging employees to support specific politicians.

But the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has freed companies from those restrictions..."

Charter Carriers, Travel Service Providers and People to People licensees have made money, often after years of sacrifice, thanks to President Obama's openings of travel to Cuba.  Staff members have no doubt contributed personally to the Obama and Garcia campaigns.


Have any of the companies used their extensive e-mail lists to remind people who traveled to Cuba with them how important this election is for their ability to do so again?


John McAuliff

Fund for Reconciliation and Development


For additional reading


The latest on line newsletter of the Cuba/US People to People Partnership 


A blog on Opera de la Calle and its struggle to defend economic and cultural innovation in Cuba


Politico published a good essay by Rep. Jim McGovern outlining the path on Cuba for a second Obama term