BY ANDREA ELLIOTT AND ELAINE DE VALLE
Alexander Rodriguez loves his parents more than he hates Fidel Castro.
Since he left Cuba for Miami five years ago, he has gone back once to see them.
‘‘If I could, I would go every weekend,’’ said Rodriguez, 28, who—like many recent Cuban exiles with a strong connection to the island—supports efforts to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba.
“Anybody who thinks differently, it’s because he doesn’t have family there.’‘
Rodriguez echoes the growing voice of Miami’s recent Cuban exiles, whose more moderate views on Cuban issues—from the U.S. trade embargo to dialogue with the Castro regime—contrast sharply to those of earlier exiles, according to two polls released this week, one by The Herald, the other by a Cuban-American organization.
The gap stems from differing emotional and practical bonds with the island, say activists, pollsters and other experts. Those who arrived in the first waves of the 1960s and ‘70s tend to have weaker ties with those living in Cuba today, and are more guided by their experience as political exiles who opposed the revolution.
By contrast, Cuba’s failed economy largely drove the more recent waves—especially in the 1990s—and while these exiles also oppose Fidel Castro, they are much more open to normalizing relations because their contact with the island is greater.
‘‘What you’re seeing is people who are intimately involved in the Cuba tragedy as opposed to people who are philosophically involved,’’ said Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation. ‘There are people in Miami who work two jobs: one to keep their lives in Miami and one to keep their families’ lives in Cuba. Those people want to solve the problem because it’s destroying them.’‘
The emotional divide between older and newer waves of exiles is not new to many Cubans in Miami, but the polls confirm it.
The most dramatic differences in attitudes surfaced over travel and money-wiring restrictions, the embargo, the dissident movement in Cuba, and whether to engage in political dialogue with Cuban government officials, the poll conducted for The Herald showed.
The Herald poll and a separate survey commissioned by the Cuba Study Group each surveyed 400 Cuban Americans in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. The Cuba Study Group, composed of prominent Cuban Americans, supports the Varela Project, an initiative begun by disssident leader Oswaldo Pay� to bring about democratic reforms through a referendum based on the Communist Party’s own constitution.
A TIME DIFFERENCE
Both polls asked respondents when they arrived in the United States.
One striking difference: Though only 34 percent of the 1960s wave supports easing restrictions on travel to Cuba, the figure almost doubles to 64 percent among those who arrived in the 1990s, according to The Herald poll.
Another notable disparity: While only 29 percent of the 1960s wave supports lifting restrictions on the amount of money they can send to Cubans on the island, 61 percent of the 1990s wave would support such an initiative.
And though a slim majority of the earlier arrivals agree that the Varela Project is important to a democratic transition in Cuba, the figure rises to 87 percent among those who arrived after 1990.
‘‘You will see a much more moderate, pro-negotiation point of view from people that came in the 1980s and 1990s, in contrast to people who came in the 1960s and 1970s,’’ said pollster Sergio Bendixen, who conducted the Cuba Study Group poll. “It’s the main reason that Miami’s exile community now holds a much more moderate approach.’‘
While 54 percent of the 1960s exiles surveyed support the concept of ‘‘forgiveness and reconciliation’’ as part of a democratic transition in Cuba, support jumps to 70 percent among ‘90s exiles, according to the Cuba Study Group poll.
Likewise, 66 percent of the 1960s exiles support the embargo, compared with 47 percent of the 1990s exiles, according to the Herald poll.
When asked whether the current Cuban government is slowly moving toward democracy, 10 percent of the 1960s exiles agreed, compared with 32 percent of the 1990s exiles.
Support for an exile dialogue with Cuban government officials—excluding Fidel and Ra�l Castro—for democratic transition is much stronger, at 61 percent, among 1990s exiles, compared with 43 percent among those who arrived in the 1960s, in the Herald poll.
Cuban American National Foundation Chairman Jorge Mas Santos proposed such a dialogue last month.
The Herald poll also reflected a similar gap in support for a Castro-sponsored conference planned for April in Havana between exiles and Cuban officials: 47 percent of the 1960s exiles support the conference, compared with 69 percent of the 1990s exiles.
The polls underscore the notion that age and generation do not dictate Cuban-American perspective as much as the era in which exiles left the island. There are several significant exile waves—the Freedom Flights of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, the Mariel boatlift of 1980, and the rafters of the ‘90s.
The first wave came in the two years following the 1959 revolution, with about 135,000 Cubans landing in South Florida. Those exiles ferried about 5,000 more Cubans to Miami in 1965, when Castro opened the port of Camarioca to those who wished to leave.
To stop illegal migration, Cuba and the United States then agreed to daily ‘‘freedom flights’’ that began that year and brought about 340,000 new Cubans to South Florida until Castro cut the flights off in 1973. The largest influx came in 1980, when about 125,000 Cubans arrived in a five-month period in the Mariel boatlift.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, Cubans arrived by sea in the hundreds and thousands each year, often in flimsy vessels built out of scrap material, culminating in a 1994 mass rafter exodus of more than 30,000.
That year, the U.S. and Cuban governments reached an accord for the United States to issue at least 20,000 visas to Cubans each year. Known as el bombo—the lottery—this and illegal smuggling operations are the main avenues for immigration today.
`A BETTER LIFE’
‘‘The recent wave are not so much political exiles as immigrants who come here, like other immigrants from Latin America, in search of a better life,’’ said Max Lesnik, one of the directors of Alianza Martiana, an anti-embargo organization. “They became opposers for economic reasons, not for political or ideological reasons. The exiles of the right do not want to recognize that.’‘
For Peter Gonzalez, a busboy at the Hialeah Latin Cafe, connecting to the island is about taking care of the aunt who raised him.
‘‘If they don’t have the dollars I get them, they would have nothing. They would starve,’’ said Gonz�lez, 31, who moved to Miami three years ago after winning the visa lottery. “I go to help my family. I’m not interested in what is happening with the regime.’‘
Anti-dialogue activist Ninoska Perez Castellon said she questioned the credibility of the polls because they differ from the viewpoints she has heard.
‘‘There might be more people that came with a different view but I find a lot of people who came in the 1990s who favor sanctions for Castro and they do not travel to Cuba,’’ she said. “I think I have a pretty good feel about what this community is all about. I don’t see these people who support the dialogue out there. All I hear is a lot of criticism for the dialogue.’‘
But to Santiago Quintana, criticizing the regime takes a back seat to doing right by his family in Cuba. Quintana, 66, has been back to the island three times since he arrived 15 years ago. He supports easing travel restrictions and dialogue to normalize relations.
‘‘It would be the most correct thing to do. It would make life easier for us here and for them there,’’ Quintana said as he sold mangoes and bell peppers on a Hialeah street corner. His son and several grandchildren live on the island.
“When I’m there, I feel good, happy.’‘