The real importance of Cuban Americans in the politics of the United States

It is difficult to classify the political and ideological tendencies that exist within US society. There is usually a primary difference between liberals and conservatives, but sometimes the qualities that distinguish them become misleading, even contradictory.

In principle everything lies in the participation of the State in the economy, while liberals advocate for greater state intrusion – which contradicts the concept of “liberalism”, which is applied in the classical theory of capitalism -, for conservatives, The State is not the solution, but the problem, according to Ronald Reagan.

As enemies of the “welfare state,” conservatives are located on the “right” of the American political spectrum, and Democrats, more by inclination than conviction, are considered a kind of “moderate left.” Although their enemies accuse them of being “socialists” and “quasi-communists,” the Democratic Party is very far from representing leftist ideas, as expressed in other parts of the world.

Some extend these differences to the field of foreign policy, placing conservatives in positions where chauvinism, unilateralism and preference for right-wing governments prevail, while liberals appear more interested in cultivating alliances with other countries and protecting the democratic appearance of the international political order. In any case, these differences are diluted when it comes to imposing hegemonism, the true pattern of US foreign policy.

Unlike what happened in the past, where the two parties harbored both currents of thought, the polarization of US politics has determined that Republicans lean fairly homogeneously towards conservatism, while Democrats are mostly considered liberal. It is no longer accurate to say that nothing is more like a Democrat than a Republican; today partisanship defines ideologies and political projects in the American social context.

Due to their majority-Republican affiliation and their positions on foreign policy, Cuban Americans are located on the right wing of the North American political space. It cannot be any other way, if we take into account that the counterrevolutionary function -against Cuba and other progressive processes in Latin America-, assigned by the US government to Cuban emigration, has been the source of the preferential treatment and the extraordinary benefits that have been received by these people in their process of acceptance and integration into American society. For this reason, it is not absurd to affirm that Miami constitutes the capital of the Latin American right.

Cuban-American “republicanism,” understood as affiliation with that party, has its origins in the policy toward Cuba, particularly in the supposed greater willingness of Republicans to invade the country, which constitutes the ultimate objective of counterrevolutionary groups. However, the determining factors have been of a domestic nature, among others, the priority that the Republican Party has granted to the state of Florida since the 1980s and the better political work that this party has carried out with the Cuban-American community, conceived as an ingredient of this objective.

There is a myth that the factor that decides the vote of Cuban-Americans is the position adopted by the candidates regarding Cuba. The reality is that being tough on Cuba has been at the center of the agendas of most electoral campaigns in Miami. However, according to the latest Cuba Poll surveys, carried out by Florida International University under the direction of sociologist Guillermo Grenier, the candidates’ position towards Cuba barely determines the vote of 5% of Cuban-American voters.

According to Grenier, it is not the position adopted by the parties towards Cuba that determines the Cuban-American vote above other considerations, but on the contrary, it is their concrete existential problems, it is partisan militancy, the attractiveness of the candidates or the exercise of power, which determines, in the long run, the positions towards Cuba of the Cuban-American conglomerate. Dependency on leadership matters and Obama’s case confirms this thesis, when the same logic worked to produce different results.

It is not such a monolithic position either. According to Cuba Poll’s own surveys, we find that while in 2000, 35% opposed the United States economic blockade, two decades later this figure remained almost unchanged (37%). In other words, a third of the Cuban-American community has never supported the policy of maximum hostility against Cuba, not even at times when this position has characterized US policy, not to mention other times – and we return to the Obama administration – when that position exceeded 50% of those surveyed.

Currently, the Cuban-American population is concentrated in the state of Florida (62%), one of the most conservative in the history of the North American nation, even long before its republican evolution, and this concentration also applies when it comes to understand the political attitudes of these people. Above all, when the right has imposed its positions through mechanisms of social control and high levels of violence.

Despite this environment, stereotypes are useless. The famous “Republican majority” only covers 52% of Cuban Americans registered in that party. On the other hand, if we analyze the behavior in the presidential elections of the last two decades, we see that the vote in favor of the Republicans has decreased by 15% in the period -Bush obtained 75% in 2000 and Trump 60% in 2020- , with peaks of almost a 25% decrease in 2012, when the Democratic candidate was Barack Obama and the vote in his favor approached 50%.
So why is hostility towards Cuba part of the discourse of all politicians who consider attracting the Cuban-American vote?

Because although the issue of Cuba is not essential for voters, it is essential for the maintenance of the political machinery of the extreme right, which is where the true influence of Cuban Americans in North American politics lies.

The numbers tell us that the political influence of Cuban Americans has never depended on the importance of their vote, but rather on this political structure, which has known how to operate within the system with an appreciable level of effectiveness.

Cuban Americans barely make up 6% of the Florida electorate and, despite their majority Republican affiliation, have not even been able to guarantee the victories of that party’s presidential candidates in Miami-Dade County, where 42% of this population resides. (Cuban-Americans constitute 36% of the area’s inhabitants.) Even Republican Senator Marco Rubio, of Cuban-American origin, lost in Miami-Dade in his last senatorial campaign.

The extreme right lives off hostility towards Cuba, since it has been the source of access to the resources of the war against the country; for the business opportunities that are linked to these accesses; to participate in the American national debate from a supposed legitimacy and ethnic credibility; to control the Cuban-American community under the premise of defending the counterrevolutionary “cause” and to expand its presence to other spheres of North American political life, until converting Cuban-Americans into the minority group proportionally best represented in the US political system.

However, even looked at from this perspective, such influence has been overstated, to the point that many consider that policy towards Cuba is decided in Miami. The reality is different, the extreme right has had a high degree of prominence in the policy towards Cuba, because it has been functional to the traditional guidelines of US government policy. When this tradition has been altered, as occurred during the Obama administration, they have modified their positions, or other groups have taken their place in the government’s preferences, and still received a high level of support from the Cuban-American community.

In summary, the issue of Cuba has been a springboard for the emergence of the Cuban-American right in US political life, but in no case has it been the determining factor in the policy that the United States has developed against the country — that comes from its DNA. This does not mean that the US government can have a policy towards Cuba that does not take into account the Cuban-American community, nor can the Cuban government ignore this community in its policy towards the United States. There are no mysteries, for better or worse, its influence comes from its own existence.