Cuban Émigrés and their Stances on the US Embargo

With the growth of an émigré community that has not been marked by the circumstances faced by the first wave of Cuban exiles, the number of those who support making the “embargo-blockade”* more flexible is also growing.

Pedro Campos

Photo: Elio Delgado Valdes

HAVANA TIMES — Over the past few decades, the nearly unanimous support for the US trade embargo / blockade among Cubans residing in the United States has given way to increasing calls to make these measures more flexible or to eliminate them altogether. This is what a number of polls conducted in Florida, and, more importantly, the inner logic of Cuban migration to the United States, seem to suggest.

Making these sanctions more flexible or eliminating them, in fact, has become an electoral campaign issue in Florida.

This article aims to help explain the causes behind these changes.

The First Wave of Exiles

The first wave of émigrés (including the mass exodus that took place in Camarioca in 1965) was chiefly prompted by the social commotion unleashed by the triumph of the popular insurrection of 1959 and the confrontations sparked off by the economic and political measures of the new government.

Among the émigrés were groups with ties to Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship (including its more notorious repressors), those who took part in the revolution and, as early as 1959, decided to confront Fidel Castro’s government (considering it a betrayal of the democratic ideals that had united them in the struggle against Batista), and sectors of the middle and high bourgeoisie that were expropriated by the de facto government and opposed the latter politically (and sometimes violently).

Most of those who left in these first exoduses did so with their families or became reunited with their relatives in subsequent years.

Naturally, and as was to be expected, these first groups have been characterized by their belligerence and have always aspired to overthrow the government through any means possible, owing to the bloody confrontations that took place before and after 1959 and the forceful nationalization of their properties, carried out in the name of a “socialist” system that has never existed.

Everything done during the first years of the revolution – without previously restoring the democratic mechanisms that had been the primary aim of the struggle against Batista – relied on the use of violence and ended up generating more violence.

The first generations of émigrés who were affected by and suffered the violence of those measures imposed on them in a non-democratic manner were and continue to be the main supporters of the embargo and the subsequent strengthening of its provisions (Torricelli and Helms-Burton Acts). They are the same generations who have contributed to the more extreme policies of US administrations in their battle against “communism” in Cuba and its spread across the region.

Cuban-born figures who have attained important positions within the US government come from those first waves of émigrés and have been key in the development of the more drastic policies the United States has adopted against Cuba, policies that have hurt the Cuban people more than their government.

Later Waves of Émigrés

Later exoduses, by contrast, aren’t related to those initial armed conflicts or the nationalization of properties carried out during the first years of the revolution. They include the Mariel Exodus (1980) those that reached a peak in 1994, with the balseros crisis, and the ones that have been taking place through all traditional routes, facilitated by Cuba’s recent migratory reforms.

These are the result of Cuba’s worsening economic situation, stemming from the failure of “State socialism,” all the more evident since the collapse of its main source of external aid, the Soviet Union and “socialist” bloc, and expressed by popular frustration over the results of the limited reforms implemented at the close of the 90s and the no-less limited measures of today’s “reform process” (measures that, freely implemented, could have had a different outcome).

Photo: Elio Delgado Valdés

Because of this, these last migratory waves haven’t been prompted only by economic frustration. They also stem from growing political differences at the heart of Cuban society which have been developing since before the collapse of “real socialism,” having to do with the centralized and undemocratic ways in which the country’s politics and economy have been steered.

These groups, however, did not have significant properties or wealth to lose.

Here, we find mainly salaried State workers and professionals and independent entrepreneurs who are unhappy with the political and economic stagnation of the nation and are desirous of improving their standard of living and that of the relatives they left behind in Cuba.

As such, these last waves of émigrés are clearly different from the first, inasmuch as they have nothing to do with the nationalization of properties, and, even though they do not share and even oppose the policies of the same government, they generally do not assume violent positions that entail bloody confrontations (as their relatives have remained in Cuba and supporting them was part of the reason they left the country in the first place).

The majority of Cubans who have left the country in recent times have done so with the intention of returning, seeing their relatives again, helping them financially and, “if things change”, even settling back in the country to set up their own businesses there. As such, they could not be expected to support the blockade-embargo measures.

Those who left at the beginning of the revolution have also yearned to return to their country of birth, as most exiles the world over have. Many of them, however, long to return to the Cuba they once knew and lived in, something which is impossible, because Cuba – and the world – have experienced many changes since.

Among these émigrés there are also those who believe that the best way of steering today’s Cuba towards their political, economic and social aims – and of satisfying their nostalgic longings – is tolerant exchange. Some even pursue cooperation with the government with a view to developing “non-State” businesses in Cuba, favoring laxer blockade-embargo regulations and hoping that other developments will allow for political changes.

As Way of a Conclusion

Because these kinds of émigrés are growing in number as a result of these latest migratory waves, and because they aren’t marked by the same circumstances once faced by so-called “historical exiles” and are interested in helping the relatives they left behind, we are seeing more and more Cubans who favor more flexible policies and eliminating the embargo-blockade altogether.

This is an undeniable reality of our changing times. One may agree with their stance partially or totally, or one may oppose it completely. Whatever one’s position, my one aim is to make a modest contribution to the analysis of this problem.
* I use the term “blockade-embargo” or “embargo-blockade” to spare myself a semantic debate over a phenomenon we all know well, though we may refer to it differently.

11 thoughts on “Cuban Émigrés and their Stances on the US Embargo

  • October 30, 2014 at 7:24 am

    OK, I see. We shall see how it shakes out in the election. For now Crist & Scott are in a dead heat.

  • October 29, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    To be specific, of the NEWLY registered voters, those who self-identify as Cuban-American are, in greater numbers, registering as Democrat. This should not be confused with the your comment that most Cubans still favor Scott.

  • October 29, 2014 at 11:27 am

    In order for Cuba to go the way of China, it would have to completely overhaul their economy. Keep in mind that China is the epitome of state capitalist. Moreover, China took huge steps away from Socialism after Mao’s death. Are you suggesting the same in a post-Castro Cuba? Brazil does not and will not influence US policy. On the contrary, Rousseff barely won. The lesson learned was that relationships with Cuba are politically costly. In her second term, she will be less and not more likely to make secret deals with the Castros. As oil falls to $80 per barrel, Maduro or whoever replaces him in Caracas will have less flexibility to maintain the 100,000 barrel per day teat to their Cuban masters. I think I agree with you that there is no telling what a post-Castro Cuba will look like. But the good news is it is POST-Castro. Like post-Saddam and post-Gaddafy, there is a possibility for violence and anarchy. However, as Griffin noted in an earlier comment, Cuba has a better history of democracy and representative government. Not to mention the nearby support of the exile community. Finally, you are also right about how now is a good time to negotiate. Yesterday was even better. Early 1959 would have been the best time. The problem lies with the Castros. They have demonstrated over the last 55 years they have no desire to negotiate anything. So all we have left is Plan B, wait the f*ckers out.

  • October 29, 2014 at 11:11 am

    What is interesting about this Florida International University (FIU) survey is #1, they use the word “Cuba” to refer to the Castro “government” #2 That the majority of the Cuban-Americans polled still want the Castro clan to be included in the list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism” #3 There is an error in the text, given that the Castros can buy food, medicie and other US products but has to do it in cash #4 They never used the word “unilaterally” to clarify how the “Cuban Embargo” would be lifted. Many like me feel that the “Embargo” should be lifted but not until the Castro Clan gives something back to the Cuban people, like free uncensored internet for all living in the island prison. This is how diplomacy works, something the Castro dont want to do with the US!

  • October 29, 2014 at 10:03 am

    You are conflating statistics. Christ may be registering more new voters, but among Cuban-Americans, he is less popular than Gov. Scott.

    “Two surveys show that 49 percent of Hispanics favor Crist, though he lost popularity during the first six months of his campaign. In April, A Survey USA poll showed Scott led Crist by 52-46 percent among Cuban-Americans, but a late August poll shows Cuban-Americans now favor Scott over Crist by 63-30 percent”.

    Crist has flip-flopped on the embargo. As a Republican governor, he supports the embargo. Now as a Democratic candidate for Governor, he is against it. It is not clear that this change has drawn Cuban-Americans to his side.

  • October 29, 2014 at 9:39 am

    You warn Cuba could disintegrate into violence and corruption followed by a fascist dictatorship which blames everything on the blacks.

    The situation in Cuba today is one of state violence and corruption, under a fascist dictatorship which blames everything on the USA.

  • October 29, 2014 at 5:26 am

    I agree with some of what you are saying (or my interpretation of it). The embargo doesn’t depend on Cuban-Americans – they don’t have much affect. The US is following its own agenda not to allow Cuba to succeed and there is a lack of bravery to overcome an old cold war mentality. I also agree that Obama could do a lot more to overcome the stagnation of the situation but again this is down to lack of bravery and foresight. Whereas someone like Carter if in power today would make the necessary steps.
    Of your doomsday scenario. Predicting the future is fraught with difficulties. I think the most likely outcome is that Cuba pulls out of the current crises as the reforms start to take affect ie like China and Cuba. And when this happens and the new leadership takes over the US will forget about human rights and democracy and take the opportunity to drop the embargo. Especially if there remains pressure from Brazil and other Latin American countries. Even the Venezuelan situation is far from being certain. Maduro could well win another term. But even if he does lose its not certain that his successor will want to throw the influence within the alba movement out completely.
    But say your doomsday scenario is correct. How is that likely to make things better. Look how your country’s actions in Iraq and Syria worked out. It created the opposite for what the intention was. Cuba in the same way could disintegrate into violence and corruption followed by a fascist dictatorship which blames everything on the blacks. Of course there would be a Starbucks and a Wal-Mart on every corner of Havana.
    There are good reasons to negotiate a solution now. Raul has a lot of influence in government and so can deliver a compromise. Who knows with the person who takes over. There is likely to be a tug-of-war between different factions with no one wanting to appear to sell out.

  • October 28, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Actually no, there is no difference. However, my point is that as more Cubans register as Democrats, if there is growing anti-embargo sentiment among younger Cubans who are more likely to register as Democrats, their influence on the Republican representatives is minimal. For 2014, Broward County, Florida is registering more new voters who self-identify as Cuban and Democrat than Cuban and Republican. This has a lot to do with the upcoming gubernatorial election where Crist’s campaign has outregistered new voters by a 2-1 margin over his opponent.

  • October 28, 2014 at 9:54 am

    Do you see a difference in attitudes toward the Castro regime among Democratic Cuban-Americans and Republican Cuban-Americans? I don’t.

    Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is as outspoken against the Castros and in support of the embargo as is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

    Cuban-Americans may register and vote Democrat more often lately than before, but that does not translate into less support for the embargo. Besides, trends ebb and flow. Cuban-Americans who voted for Obama last election might switch parties again and vote for a GOP ticket with a Cuban- American on it.

  • October 28, 2014 at 9:48 am


    You missed an important group of Cuban refugees, or perhaps conflated it with another.

    While it is true there was a small group of pro-Batistia emigre’s who left immediately following the dictator’s fall from power, they were always a small percentage of the early emigres. Following them some months later were the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who had supported the uprising against Batista and believed in the declared goal of restoring Cuban democracy under the 1940 constitution. When Fidel Castro cancelled the promised elections and invited Communists into his government, the true nature of the Revolution was exposed. Cubans who did not wish to live under Communism felt betrayed by this sudden and unexpected change in direction that Fidel was leading the Revolution.

    Because of Fidel’s cynical betrayal, thousands of Cubans fled the island. They had opposed Batista and now they opposed Castro. Over the years and decades, more Cubans left the island for political reasons.

    Today, the some of the Cubans who leave have reported their motivations as political and some say economic. Many say it’s a mixture. Keep in mind, economic freedom is as much a gift of liberty as is political freedom or religious freedom.

    The recent and often quoted push-poll which purportedly claimed to show a decrease in support for the embargo (it is not a blockade) has been debunked as a fit-up job by Castro’s agents of influence. The questions on the poll were designed to obtain that response. The organization who prepared the poll are known as being influenced by and sympathetic to the Castro regime.

    The narrative you described fits too easily into the one pushed by the Castro regime, that the economic & migratory reforms have made fleeing the island obsolete. The dramatic increase in the number of Cubans leaving the island illegally, on top of those with legal permission to emigrate, demonstrates the fact that the desire for freedom (economic and political) continues to burn in Cuban hearts.

  • October 27, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    The US/Cuban embargo (Helms Burton) is codified in Federal. Law. A majority of both Houses of Congress and the signature of the President is required to repeal Helms Burton. While the President has the authority to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba without the cooperation of Congress, it is not likely he/she will do so unless there is significant progress towards democracy in Cuba to justify this action. Pedro’s analysis of the current Cuban exile demographic is largely correct. However, what Pedro fails to consider is that the climate in Washington is a horse of a different color. Few Congressmen or Senators have the political temerity to vote for helping a ‘communist’ regime like Cuba regain economic traction. Especially when Cuba is so close to real economic disaster, unlike anything we have seen in the last 55 years. According to Cuban Economic Czar, Marino Murillo, in less than 13 years, Cuba will begin to experience a population of more aged Cubans dying than Cuban babies being born. This demographic quicksand, along with the crumbling support of the Venezuelan nursemaid and the lackluster interest by foreign investors, is a harbinger for economic ruin. The US has no reason to capitulate to Castro demands at this point and our negotiating position only improves over the next few years. Pedro also fails to consider what percentage of the lastest wave of Cuban emigres actually vote and which party are they voting for. As more Cubans register and vote Democratic, the effect of their anti-embargo views impact the majority elected Cuban Republican representatives less and less. Pedro’s analysis oversimplifies an entirely more complicated issue.

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