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Posted October 05, 2004 by publisher in Cuban Americans

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By Madeline Baro Diaz | Sun Sentinel

Like many Cuban-Americans, Alex Pezon has been a staunch Republican most of his adult life.

Pezon, of Lake Worth, has voted to put George Herbert Walker Bush, Bob Dole and George W. Bush in the White House. This time around, however, Pezon is committed to voting for Democratic nominee John Kerry because he blames Bush for keeping him separated from his wife, Maydel, who is in Cuba waiting to come to the United States.

Although President Bush is expected to win the majority of South Florida’s Cuban-American vote, many Cuban-Americans have increasingly criticized his administration. That could be a problem for Bush, who by some estimates won about 80 percent of the Cuban vote in 2000. Any erosion of that support could be significant, since the 2000 presidential election was decided by just 537 votes.

The turning point for Pezon, who met his wife about three years ago in Cuba and married her last year, was the recent policy that restricts Cuban-Americans to one family visit every three years. Before the change, Cubans could go once a year without a Treasury license, and each year Pezon received permission for additional visits.

Because he thinks the Bush administration’s policy is too harsh, Pezon is pinning his hopes on Kerry’s promises to allow “principled travel” to the island.

“If your mom is in Cuba and she’s dying of some illness, you can’t go,” Pezon said. “Suppose your wife was having a child, you can’t go. Life’s not black and white, but the law now is like that.”

The Bush administration unveiled a series of measures in May, following months of pressure from some Cuban-American Republicans who decried what they perceived as a lack of action in Cuba policy by the Bush administration. The new policies, designed to cut the flow of U.S. dollars to Cuba’s government, included the regulations cutting down on family visits. While many Cuban exiles praised the move, others in the community protested the actions, saying they would divide families.

That’s why both parties are vying for the Cuban electorate, with Republicans trying to hold on to their traditional base and Democrats trying to make inroads.

“We’ve got to fire up the troops and get them to turn out,” said Cuban-American U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami.

Recent polls have shown that the president’s support among Cuban-Americans has declined as much as 20 percent while others have shown little if any decline. Veteran pollster Sergio Bendixen said his polls show about a 10 percent drop in support.

Four years ago, Bendixen’s polling showed that 84 percent of Cuban-Americans voters chose Bush and about 15 percent picked Gore. This time around, a July poll by Bendixen showed 69 percent of Cuban voters picking Bush, 21 percent choosing Kerry and 10 percent undecided.

Bendixen said the loss of support for Bush is probably because of a change in the makeup of the Cuban electorate rather than people switching loyalties. Although many stories have circulated about people like Pezon, who have gone from being lifelong Republicans to Kerry supporters, Bendixen said “it doesn’t show up in the polls.”

What explains that, Bendixen said, is the president’s strong support from “historic exiles,” those who came in the first decades after Fidel Castro took over the country in 1959—people who identify themselves as political refugees.

Many Cubans who came in the most recent decades, however, describe themselves as economic refugees and are more likely to align themselves with the Democratic Party. Also affecting the electorate’s makeup are younger generations of Cuban-Americans who have rejected their parents’ Republican leanings.

Still, the older exiles make up the vast majority of Cuban-American voters and they are expected to strongly support Bush again, Bendixen said.

But Democrats are doing their part to get Cuban-Americans who feel differently to also turn out and vote for Kerry. Joe Garcia, who served as executive director of the bipartisan Cuban American National Foundation for years, recently resigned to help the Washington-based New Democrat Network boost the Hispanic turnout in November.

In his previous post, Garcia, a Democrat, was a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s Cuba policy. Garcia had repeatedly asked for a review of the immigration policy that results in the repatriation of most Cuban immigrants caught at sea, among other issues.

“For 3 1/2 years this administration did absolutely nothing after getting the overwhelming support of the Cuban community,” Garcia said.

Ros-Lehtinen said many Cuban-Americans agree that the new Cuba measures are the right move. The challenges for Republicans on Election Day involve making sure Cuban-Americans vote, including logistics such as how to get elderly voters to the polls, she said. She expects a positive turnout.

“I think President Bush is going to be receiving a good, wonderful, hefty, percentage of the Cuban exile vote,” she said. “I think the president has done very well in fulfilling his promises to the exile community.”

Vigilia Mambisa, an anti-Castro exile group, has sponsored signature and letter drives expressing support for Bush and for the measures. Laura Vianello, a member of the organization, said the group wants stronger sanctions against Cuba and thinks Bush is on the right track.

“I believe that most Cubans are for Bush,” she said.

Pezon thinks the Cuba measures were an attempt to solidify the Cuban-American vote for Bush but won’t work.

“I’m still a Republican [but] I’m not going to support George Bush,” Pezon said. “I think what they were trying to do was trying to ignite the Cuban vote ... it’s going to [backfire] on him.”

Madeline Baro Diaz can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 305-810-5007.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on October 06, 2004 by I-taoist with 213 total posts

    I predict that the Bush camp will be in for a rude awakening come November 2nd relative to the Cuban-American vote.  Anyone who knows latins intimately knows of their very strong attachment and loyalty to family.  Mr. Bush’ harsh and cruel new measures, no matter the justification, will hit many Cuban-Americans in the gut…a blow that is not easily digested and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.  Look for Kerry to garner 35-40% of the Cuban-American vote, and rightly so. 

  2. Follow up post #2 added on October 08, 2004 by YUCA

    Allow me to get ghetto for a second.

    Bush done f’ed up!

    Bush like many exile Cubans from the 50’ and 60’ are a bunch of rats following cheese.

    Cubans tend to continue following those who make false promises while they line their pockets of cash,for that they could of stayed in Cuba.

    Cubans need to stop following the pipe pipers the likes of the Diaz-Balarts,Ros-Leithan etc..

    I mean really,why follow the methods these morons spit out?

    Ask them if they have ever been back to Cuba or even remember Cuba for that matter?

    They have no love for their country,they don’t want a free Cuba,because if Cuba was to be free they would all stand to lose a huge amount of cash and support!

    My organization YUCA,Young Urban Cuban Americans will be a huge force to deal with come election time,we are the sons and daughtres of our exiled parents.

    We out number our parents and family who came to the U.S searching for freedom.

    We are nearly 18,000 strong nationwide with over 12,000 right from Miami!

    So if Bush and his political chess players think they are going to use YUCA’ as pawns in their game of political chess,THINK AGAIN!

    We are growing stronger by the day!

  3. Follow up post #3 added on October 08, 2004 by Alex Pezon

    This is the guy featured in the story Oct 4, 2004 in the Sun Sentinel, quoted above.

    Mr. Bush, you may feel its okay to keep us seperated from our families, but we do not.  We know your recent actions were politically motivated- to try get Cuban votes.  But you are hurting Cuban families.  We will not blindly vote for you.

    You say Cuba must change because of the terrible conditions (and we agree) but you send Cubans back to Cuba that you find at sea.  You say you are concerned with Hunman Rights, but you trade with China, Saudi Arabia, and now even Vietnam. Your policies are politics- not real.

    You keep us seperated from our families, but will be kinder to you.  We will let have plenty of quality time with your family, after we elect John Kerry and you retire to Crawford.

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