The Politics of Cuban-Americans

by SAUL LANDAU and NELSON P. VALDES

Several of our friends expressed shock when they learned that President Obama had won some 48% of south Florida’s Cuban-American vote. One asked: how can you explain that a reputedly reactionary community would yield such a high percentage vote for a Democrat?

The answer relates to confusion. The Cuban Americans in the Miami area have gotten mislabeled. They do not belong in the social or “cultural conservative” category. Some sectors of the “latino” community do have conservative social views. But apart from their harsh position on the Cuban revolution, Cuban Americans do not strongly oppose divorce, women’s rights, social security, social welfare payments, or sexual preference.

Historically, they, who left the island soon after the revolutionaries seized power, have taken a staunch opposition approach to Cuba’s revolutionary government. Yet, many of those same anti-Castro Cuban “conservatives” showed no opposition when President Fulgencio Batista introduced “big government,” or strong state intervention in the Cuban economy. Indeed, since 1934 Batista used the state to play a major role in transforming and regulating Cuba’s economy.

These Cubans – conservative only in their opposition to revolution — have never become “libertarians,” nor have they favored laissez-faire capitalism. Some of the major fortune makers in pre-revolutionary Cuba used of that highly regulated economy to amass their wealth. So-called sugar king Julio Lobo reaped his fortune from a thoroughly regulated sugar market. Pre-revolutionary Cuba’s government had divided sugar profits among the large, medium and small growers, and assured each partner of his proper share.

Those who left Cuba in 1959 and the early 1960s, now Cuban Americans, have favored Republican or Democratic candidates strictly on the basis of their policies on US-Cuba relations. Even south Florida’s arch reactionary – on Cuba policy — Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen champions gay rights, social security, Medicare and other so-called entitlements. In Cuba, those entitlements are called human rights. But the retired Jews who inhabit parts of Miami Beach would hardly vote for a truly reactionary Member of Congress. Ros-Lehtinen’s compensates her staunch anti-Castro views by her strong pro-Israel stance and her legislative devotion to Medicare and other benefits received by retired people.

So, post election analysts should not see the size of Obama’s Cuban-American vote as a sign that large sectors of the south Florida community have changed their basic views. The Republicans threatened the social safety net and supplemental security income that many Cuban Americans – and elderly Jews — depend on. Republican David Rivera, who denounced some  Cuban Americans  for spending their social security benefits on traveling to Cuba to visit relatives lost his congressional seat to Joe Garcia, a more moderate Cuban American Democrat. Rivera had called it an “abuse, that these people [Cuban Americans] are receiving these benefits and are traveling subsidizing a terrorist country with those benefits” as if Rivera possessed the moral authority to determine how his constituents spent their money. Moreover, Rivera even introduced legislation to amend the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act so to prevent non-US citizens of Cuban descent who live in the United States from traveling to the island. An unpopular position.

Cuban-Americans also differ from other so-called conservatives, in their lack of fascination with fundamentalist Protestantism and the social mores that results from these evangelical, born-again faiths. In Miami, as in Cuba, un-wanted pregnancies often get dealt with at the abortion clinic. Divorce is hardly a taboo among Cuban Americans, who also like to gamble, drink their rum and have good times partying.

Some traditional Cuban men in Miami still score social “points” by acquiring young mistresses. They do share strong anti-homosexual feelings with non-Cuban American right wingers, however, but do not make gun-ownership rights into the equivalent of a biblical commandment. Nor are many Cubans born again Christians; besides Santeria is certainly more fun, down-to-earth and expansive.

Libertarian members of the Republican Party do not take a hard line against Cuba, which distances them from much of the old guard who lost property, privilege, status and honor to the revolutionaries. Newly elected Arizona Senator Jeff Flake for example is a proponent of dropping the embargo against Cuba. Indeed, the anti-Castro stalwarts make hating the revolution the only requisite for membership in their political cause. Even anti-Castro socialists can belong.

Those Cubans who came to Florida some 50+ years ago, and the succeeding waves over the decades did not constitute a politically homogeneous bloc. The Cuban American Foundation of the 1980s and 90s, which took a very hard line against the revolutionary government, moderated its stance when Joe Garcia, now in Congress,  became Foundation President. But the Cubans also have a left wing, albeit small, and a large group of sons and daughters of emigrants who have become very Americanized and whose politics do not revolve around those of the island.

Fifty three years have elapsed since the revolutionaries took power in Cuba and the first wave of Cubans landed in Miami. Many expected to return quickly to the island after the US Marines cleared the way, but since then major changes have taken place in the realm of expectations. Only the naïve and utopian now think the Cuban government will soon fall; fewer think Washington will take action to make that happen. Cuban Americans over the decades have become Americanized, especially the progeny of the early migrants, and they share the widespread panoply of beliefs that exist throughout the country, even though they reside in Miami, America’s poorest city.  (The award was bestowed by the U.S. Census Bureau, which calculated that a greater percentage of Miami’s residents were living in poverty than any other U.S. city with a population over 250,000.)

Few Cuban-Americans, however, rate the term “conservative.”

Saul Landau’s FIDEL and WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP are available on dvd from cinemalibre.store.com

Nelson P. Valdes is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire