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by Louis E.V. Nevaer

McCain Could Pull Latino Vote Away From Democrats

(PNS) -- The resounding rout of Rudolph Giuliani in Tuesday's Republican primary in Florida spells the end of his unconventional presidential campaign. It also demonstrates that Florida's Cuban Americans can no longer be taken for granted by the GOP.

The decades-old Republican strategy of winning Florida by flying into Miami, touring Little Havana and promising Cuban exiles and their American-born adult children and grandchildren that they would get rid of Castro has come to an end.

After nearly four decades of an embargo that has proven to be a complete failure, Cubans have wized up to the hollow promises of American presidential campaigns.

It is a myth among Anglos that Cubans are "right wing" and "obsessed" with Castro. There are right wing and left wing nuts in every community, and Castro looms large in their lives simply because what drove them to these shores was an "exile" that in fact was banishment: Disagree with Castro, and there is no room for you in Cuba.

Like many others before them, Cubans were enamored with the na•ve belief in American decency: Americans saved the world; Americans were honorable; Americans kept their word.

But living in the United States for almost half a century has taught them much about the American way. Americans saved Europe from Hitler's grasp, only to dominate it militarily through NATO and corporate America. Americans have been less than honorable in how they ended slavery, first through the bloodiest civil war in the history of the Western hemisphere, then through a century of segregation-cum-apartheid. Americans are quick to break agreements when it is politically or economically expedient: From the Treaty of Guadalupe to the International Declaration of Human Rights, this country fails to comply fully with its word.

It is this grand disillusionment with the United States -- and the empty promises of Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr. -- that has transformed Miami Cubans' perception of the United States.

Miami Cubans' move away from the Republicans coincides with other demographic changes taking place among Florida's Hispanics. While Hispanics from South America lean towards the Republican Party, Hispanics from Central America and Mexico do not. And the American-born children of Cubans tend to identify with -- and vote for -- the liberal social views of Democrats.

For Hispanics of Mexican ancestry -- who constitute nearly 80 percent of all Hispanics nationwide -- the appeal of a military hero like John McCain is undeniable. Take a closer look at the names of the American troops fallen in Iraq, and a disproportionate number are Mexican-born non-citizens, or U.S. citizens born to illegal Mexican immigrants, who want a fast-track to citizenship through the "hyper-patriotism" of military service. (Hispanics of Mexican ancestry who were born in the United States are the most passionate about "law and order" when it comes to enforcing immigration laws.)

But in Florida, the mosaic of the Hispanic vote sealed the end of the Giuliani campaign. Acting as if all it takes is a 15-minute drive through Little Havana, Giuliani repeated the mantra that only a Republican president could get rid of Castro. Cuban exiles have heard it all before.

What non-Cubans have not heard before is what is said in hushed tones among Miami Cubans. This is what Miami Cubans say about their homeland in whispers: Cuba has no oil, or weapons, and as a consequence, it is a country of no importance to Washington. This is what Miami Cubans, who are white, say about their homeland in whispers: Cuba has become an island nation of 12 million people of color who have no money. Cuba, in other words, is Spanish for Haiti.

This reflects the emergence of "Mosaic Miami" -- comprized of two Hispanic constituencies: non-Cubans and Cubans. The non-Cubans are the Mexicans, most of whom are in Homestead, working the agricultural fields of south Florida, and Venezuelans and Colombians, each escaping turmoil in their homelands. These non-Cuban Miami Hispanics tend to vote Democratic, and as their numbers have grown, so has the diversity of the Hispanic vote.

The Miami Cuban vote, comprising more than 80 percent of all Hispanics in Miami-Dade County, is itself not monolithic: There are three "Miami Cubans" -- the exiles who arrived in the 60s and 70s, now senior citizens, who are staunch Republicans; the exiles who arrived since the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, which is split between Democratic and Republican; and the U.S.-born Miami Cubans who tend to vote Democratic.

This pattern is evident throughout all of Florida -- Guatemalan Hispanics figure prominently in Tampa, Puerto Ricans in Orlando and Mexicans in the Panhandle.

But the Giuliani strategy of making the same empty promises fell on deaf ears. Indeed, the four leading Hispanic officials -- Sen. Mel Martinez and Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Lincoln Diaz-Balart -- all endorsed McCain.

And within the Miami Cuban community, there are fissures. Before 1980, Cuban exiles were white, middle-class professionals. Since 1980, Cuban exiles have been people of color, poor, and without the skills necessary to succeed in a market economy.

The greatest disillusionment remains this one fact of which Americans remain happily ignorant: While it's breaking news on CNN when a ship of Cuban exiles manages to land on South Beach, and the desperate men, women and children rush ashore and kiss the ground, it's seldom reported when, a year or so later, quietly, some of these exiles make their way back to Cuba. Spending one year in Castro's jail is worth the price of leaving in the United States, where everyone is expected to work every day, find their own housing, pay their own bills, put clothing on their back, and see about getting health care.

Miami Cubans look on in horror, and realize that what they long for is nostalgia for a Cuba, a time, a world that no longer exists. So when Giuliani or Romney come by and promise to "free" Cuba, this may have meant something in the 60s or 70s, when the exiles were young or middle-aged. But the Republican die-hard Cubans in Little Havana are in their 70s and 80s, more concerned about Medicaid and Medicare than they are about anything they lost on that tropical island in a different life.

Republicans who think the Cuban-American vote is a given are also dreaming of a time and a place that exists only in nostalgia.

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Albion Monitor   January 30, 2008   (

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