Do Cuban-Americans hold U.S. policy hostage?

I’m opposed to the four-decades-long embargo against Cuba. First, I don’t think it has worked. It’s true that Cuba is a poor nation, but Castro is still in power. (‘Give it another ten years or so. He’s sure to be out of office eventually!’) Other countries have business there, and they seem to be doing well. I think that if the embargo were lifted, U.S. companies would do well too. I’m sure many U.S. citizens would love to go to Cuba on holiday. More employment would help improve the lot of the poor Cubans, and may weaken the hold Communism has on the people. I think lifting the embargo would be good for U.S. businesses, good for travellers, good for people who may want Cuban products, and good for the Cuban people.

And yet, the trade embargo persists. While it’s not impossible for U.S. citizens to travel there, it’s not that easy and there are a lot of restrictions. Why?

It seems to me that the Cuban-American community in Florida are holding up progress. Many of them had to flee Cuba, and they’re still pissed off. They are a significant number of votes in Florida, and a political candidate who advocated opening trade with Cuba would probably not have their support. S/He might very well lose the election. Florida also has a large number of electoral votes in the Presidential elections. Lose Florida, and the candidate may not have enough votes to become President. So it seems to me that U.S. policy re: Cuba is being held hostage by a single community in Florida.

I’ve no real interest in visiting Cuba myself. Yeah, it might be nice someday; but it’s more a case of living in The Land Of The Free and not being allowed to travel freely. That being the case; that is, I haven’t really looked into the situation, I’ll admit that my assessment may be incorrect.

What do you think?

I agree with you that opening to Cuba would do much more to reform it than a decades long embargo.

Now the politician that makes that suggestion will lose a sizable vote in the key state of Florida and a lot of lobby dollars. If Bush had talked about opening to Cuba two elections ago he wouldn’t have been president for example.

It works both ways though... without the Cuba issue those Florida Cubans wouldn't care much about politics either. So keeping the issue alive also helps to draw money and votes for whomever supports the embargo.

The other thing is, though, that, while the Cuban-American population in Florida is really pro-embargo, there’s no really organized anti-embargo group out there. So, from a political point of view, there’s no downside to supporting the embargo, and a big risk in opposing it.

How large a voting bloc are Cuban-Americans in Florida at this point? What percentage of turnout does the population have? And meaning no offense to any Cuban-American Dopers or non-Dopers, but the thing I always hear about that population is that a hefty number of those who came in during mass exoduses from the country were so-called “undesirables,” that Castro took advantage of the exoduses to empty out the Cuban jails. How much if any truth is there to that, and if it’s true, how prominent a role do these so-called undesirables have within the community?

While sheer numbers in the voting bloc may be of some interest, it would be more useful to know the amount of campaign contributions made by Cuban-Americans. I suspect that some fairly sizeable checks have been written by successful Cuban-Americans who support the continued embargo.

I agree that the embargo is pointless and IMHO the Cuban-American population exerts an influence far beyond its percentage of the population.

We are alone in this. Canadians and Europeans are regular visitors to Cuban resorts so the island sees a fair amount of tourist business without us. But I believe we’d be better served by visiting Cuba and letting locals see Americans in the same light as they see the Canadians and European visitors.

A US tourist is forbidden to travel there lest Castro benefit from a few more American dollars. But Castro benefits greatly from the trade between our two nations. The US supports huge agricultural exports to Cuba - but of course that’s “humanitarian”. Well spreading first hand knowledge of Americans and a few American dollars among the pooly paid hotel workers is also humanitarian in my book.

Wait 'til Castro dies. Well-to-do emigrants who’ve made it in the US will flock back to their homeland. Will they pay the hotel maids any more than they’re now getting? Will they improve the quality of life for the average Cubano? Or will they just see a chance to line their pockets with profits from US tourists?

It’ll be interesting.

A Democrat COULD end the embargo if he or she wanted to. I think Bill Clinton considered it, but decided to not open that can of worms with the ugly taste of the Elian Gonzalez mess still fresh.
The Cuban Americans who care that much about the embargo are lock step in the Republican party.
If I remember correctly, Clinton loosened travel restrictions, but Bush reversed them.

(a) They are very active; and influential ($$$, media airtime) beyond their numbers.

(b) That specific accusation was specially emphasized during the so-called Mariel boatlift, back in the Carter administration. Pacino’s Scarface and almost every other subplot in Miami Vice played on this one as backstory.
Now, the Marielitos were indeed very different from the original exile group, being working/lower class types who were disenfranchised even in the revolution, while the first waves were middle-and-above class types including a lot of professionals, former civil servants and non-communist purged revolutionary leaders. Among the Marielitos, yes, Castro encouraged anyone he’d rather not have around to get on the boats, so you had a lot of shady types. Still those are about as truly representative of the Mariel group as the mythical big-money fat-cat type is of the prior generation: both just get heaps of publicity (in both cases the average guy had to rebuild his life from scratch, working at what he could). As far as I can tell marielitos are lower in the Cuban-American totem pole, at a disadvantage for their later arrival and their lesser educations.