By Alfredo Prieto*
HAVANA TIMES, April 27 – Two days after having announced changes in US government policy on trips and remittances to Cuba, the public opinion research firm Bendixen & Associates conducted a survey in the Miami-Dade-Broward area; their findings stirred up more than a bit of controversy.
According to these polls, 72 percent of those interviewed were favorable to the US having talks with the Cuban government headed by President Raul Castro, while only 20 percent were opposed, and the remaining 8 percent said they had no opinion. Likewise, 64 percent supported allowing trips to the island by Cuban-Americans, and 67 percent approved granting this same freedom to Americans in general-signs that bold well for a bill now in Congress that would ease other restrictions.
However, what was most striking in the political sphere-viewed within the context of a community whose Republican affiliation has historically been inscribed in stone-was the finding that 67 percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of President Barack Obama. Only 20 percent of that group disapproved of the new president’s performance after his government’s first 100 days.
Attempts were immediately made to cast doubt on these findings by several radio and television stations aligned with the hardcore anti-Cuba émigré circle. They went so far as to try to delegitimize the survey, questioning its professionalism. They pounced on the fact that previous projections by this same company were not backed up by the facts, citing the company’s failure to accurately estimate the Cuban-American vote for Florida Congressional members in the last election. The message was clear: the partisanship of Bendixen, which is associated with the Democrats, had skewed their appraisal.
No survey is infallible, but as one gentleman once said, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Assuming even a margin of error of around four percent, as admitted by the pollsters, what is clear is that these tendencies toward moderation, bridge building and a new type of interaction with Cuba constitute the most outstanding developments in Miami today.
This new perspective is determined by factors that include the generation gap and the arrival of a new wave of Cuban immigrants in the 1990s. The vision of these younger groups concerning the internal situation in Cuba differs appreciably from those of the earlier waves of exiles-who are still there after all these years, but with the grim reaper at their doorstep. Nonetheless, that survey is not the only outstanding occurrence in Miami.
The day after the announcement on the loosening of travel restrictions, the area in Miami International Airport where the line is formed for trips to Cuba looked like an anthill in disarray, according to what I read in an e-mail from a friend who works in a currency exchange center there.
The anti-Cuba hardliners refuse to travel to Cuba because the money that they would leave-so they say-would flow into the coffers of the State, and would consequently benefit the communist régime. Taken as a metaphor, the e-mail message referred to them using a swearword associated with male sexual organs, an expression widely used by Cubans on and off the island.
It is evident that on certain points the Cuban-American enclave is changing in a sense similar to that of American society in general. People surveyed across the US have traditionally approved normalizing relations with Cuba and have defended the constitutional right to unrestricted travel to taste the forbidden apple.
To point to an example, I remember that during the Reagan years, one of the most strained periods in relations between the two countries, public opinion research was conducted by the firm Potomac Associates. This revealed that despite the negative view held about Cuba by American leaders and US public, most of those interviewed indicated that they agreed on the need for negotiations between the two governments to normalize relations. While that happened, just to mention the word “dialogue” in Miami could have meant one being bombed (or being threatened by one).
Now the tendency is stronger, reinforcing the idea that policy toward Cuba has not worked, which has been reiterated in speeches by the new administration. According to a recent national poll by the University of Maryland’s International Policy Attitudes Program, 59 percent of those interviewed favor “a new approach” to Cuba, 75 percent see the need for bilateral talks, and 70 percent think that Americans across the board should be free to travel to the island.
“The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind,” wrote Bob Dylan in a famous song of the 1960s.
*Alfredo Prieto is a Cuban essayist and editor. He resides in Havana.