New York Times | By TERRY AGUAYO
In an unexpected move that signals the political diversification of Cuban-Americans, the executive director of a prominent Cuban-American exile group here has left his post to join a Democratic advocacy organization.
Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, has become the senior advisor in Florida for the New Democrat Network, a Washington-based 527 organization. “I think this is probably the most important election of my generation, and I have to get involved,” Mr. Garcia said.
As executive director of the foundation, a nonpartisan group, Mr. Garcia’s role was to promote policies affecting Cuban affairs without endorsing any political party.
Mr. Garcia, a longtime Democrat, said he chose to join the New Democrat Network because he believed no group was doing a better job reaching out to Hispanics in Florida and across the country. He began work in the new post on Monday.
“I don’t think we’ve reached out enough to Cuban-Americans and Hispanics in general,” Mr. Garcia said of the Democratic Party. “As Democrats, we make a huge mistake in walking away from the Cuban-American vote. And as Cuban-Americans, we’ve paid a huge price.”
Mr. Garcia will continue to serve on the foundation’s board and has the support of Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the foundation and the son of its founder. Mr. Garcia was chairman of the Florida Public Service Commission under a Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles, before joining the foundation.
“The Cuban-American community has been ignored by Democrats for a long time,” said Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network. “Joe is going to send a message to Cuban-Americans that they are welcome in the Democratic Party.”
Historically, Cuban-Americans have been reliably Republican, contending that the party has more thoroughly embraced their staunchly anti-Castro platform than the Democrats. But the group is changing socially and politically. Prominent exile leaders in South Florida now favor a more conciliatory relationship with Cuba, while still denouncing Mr. Castro.
The change in attitudes reflects an ideological split between the original Cuban exiles and their children and grandchildren, and between immigrants who left Cuba for economic reasons and those who fled for political reasons. It also represents a concerted effort by some exile groups to improve the image of Cuban-Americans after the nationally televised struggle over the young shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez.