‘Cold War Stories’: Why Cuban-Americans in Miami remain staunch Republicans | 2022 US Midterm Elections
It was a rainy Tuesday morning in South Florida, and two men in their 80s were deep in conversation and cafecito at the iconic Versailles Cuban Bakery in Miami.
Born in Cuba and now retired, the couple – who would only give their first names Manuel and Juan – have lived in the region for more than 60 and 20 years, respectively. And when asked about their political stance, they avoid the Republican label that many of their neighbors proudly adopt and simply describe themselves as deeply anti-Communist.
“We believe government should be small, everyone should have the right to work, and private business is what makes a country grow,” said the more outspoken of the two, Manuel.
He and Juan prefer to call themselves conservatives and have not considered backing a Democrat since the 1970s, claiming – without too much evidence – that the party is full of Marxist ideas adopted by the Cuban regime they fled and which has taken the property of many refugee families.
Manuel said he and Juan supported Donald Trump’s White House because he opposed communism and his speech on the economy appealed to them. “If we had the chance,” said Juan, who spent 10 years as a political prisoner in Cuba, they would send Ronald Reagan back to the Oval Office.
For what seems like countless election cycles now, Democrats and other Republican opponents have hoped that such right-wing postures among the key Cuban-American electorate in South Florida would die down — if not disappear — as the younger generations of this community would come of age, giving progressives an opening to more consistently win a perennial battleground state.
But that didn’t happen, and it doesn’t look like the stronghold and advantage the Republican Party enjoys in such an important part of Florida is weakening any time soon.
A number of Cuban-American Republican candidates for Congress are up for re-election in November, and the support of the Cuban-American community will prove essential to achieving positive results. In the case of stalwart Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who faces Democratic challenger Val Demmings, some analysts to predict “This could be the closest race to Rubio’s career.”
Likewise, incumbent Republican House Representative María Elvira Salazar could face a close race in a neighborhood known for its swing in the past.
Meanwhile, Republican House members Mario Diaz Balart and former Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez are both expected to have favorable midterm reelection results.
Yet as the Democratic Party attempts to cling on to tinny advantages in both houses of Congress heading into the 2022 midterms, conservative Cuban-Americans remain the most influential bloc embedded within the 2, 5 million Latinos who represent 17% of registered voters in Florida.
A Pew Research Center report as of 2018, said Cuban Americans made up 29% of registered Latino voters in the state of Florida, followed only by Puerto Ricans, who made up 27% of that demographic. The remaining 44% are made up of many nationalities of origin, such as Mexicans, who represent 10% of this electorate, and Colombians, who represent 8%. NBC News exit polls for the 2020 election revealed that while 55% of Cuban-American voters in Florida voted for Trump, so did 30% of Puerto Rican voters and 48% of Latino voters remaining in the state. from the southeast.
In any case, Hispanics in the rest of the state preferred Joe Biden over Trump by a 2-to-1 margin during Biden’s successful run for the White House in 2020, according to a 2021 report by Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at the University. of California, Los Angeles.
Still, Latinos in and around Miami backed Trump against the Democratic winner of the 2-to-1 race, according to that same report. And the Democratic polling firm Catalist, which looks back at the 2020 elections and Estimated Drops in Leftist Support in Presidential Battleground States, found that “the biggest drop by far was in Florida” despite Biden’s relative popularity.
Both sets of data show that Reagan’s decision to align his Republican party with the Cuban-American majority in this populous region is still paying off, said Northwestern University professor Geraldo Cadava, who teaches history as well. than Latin and Latin American studies.
“Since the 1980s, Republicans have put their boots down [in Florida]they organized Cuban-Americans, they supported Cuban-American candidates, they invested them, [and often] left the Democratic Party in the dust,” said Florida International University’s Guillermo Grenier, a professor in the college’s Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies.
According to Cadava, Cuban-Americans in Florida remain loyal to Republican politics because of Cold War narratives centered on opposition to the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro that continue to resonate here, even though they have faded elsewhere. from America. This is why campaign stops by presidential candidates in Florida have historically involved speeches on foreign policy, which is significant for the many who fled the Castro regime themselves or have relatives who fled it. do.
To this day, Cadava believes many Cuban Americans in Florida are drawn to the Republicans because it continues to be a group “driven by Cold War narratives of opposition to Castro.” Likewise, underlines Grenier, “when the presidential candidates come to Florida, they make foreign policy speeches because they know that there is a population that will respond to that”.
A Cuban-born retiree who would only identify as Pablo says he even gave up supporting the Democratic Party when Barack Obama’s White House sought to unfreeze the United States’ long hostile relationship with Cuba, including easing restrictions on travel to the island. of 11 million people for activities such as academics.
Obama’s stance set the stage in 2016 for him to become the first US president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years, despite the regime being cited there repeatedly for human rights abuses. the man. And Pablo, along with many of his neighbors, preferred it when Trump reimposed some of the sanctions that Obama had rejected but his predecessors had left in place in hopes of pressuring the communist Caribbean island towards the capitalism and democracy.
“I vote with Cuba’s freedom in mind,” Pablo said during one of his frequent visits to famed Calle Ocho in Miami-Dade County. “Republicans are better at putting more pressure on Cuba, and that’s why I’m aligning with the party.”
A survey on Cuba that Grenier helps lead for the FIU discovered in 2020 that 60% of Cuban Americans in South Florida were like Pablo, favoring the trade embargo against the island, which is a difficult position for any candidate to take seeking progressive support.
Meanwhile, 79-year-old Cuban retiree Thelma Dominguez said: “I have been a Republican since I arrived in this country. One of her first acts as a citizen was to vote for Richard Nixon before the Watergate scandal forced her to become the only president to step down from the Oval Office.
Dominguez now says she’s a staunch Trump supporter and is quick to call him a patriot. She didn’t seem so concerned that her supporters staged the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in a desperate and undemocratic attempt to prevent congressional certification of her loss to Biden.
She’s more concerned with keeping guns accessible to the public thanks to the Second Amendment to the US constitution, and she likes that Republicans are dedicated to it, saying Cubans lost the right to bear arms after Castro’s ascension. .
During the election, she said the economy was at the forefront of her mind. And she is one of the 80% of Cuban Americans in South Florida who, according to the CRF Cuba surveysupport the economic agendas of Trump, far-right Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and their Republican allies.
“I deeply hate communism, and today’s Democrats are complete communists,” Dominguez said. “They are against the rich and the millionaires who have businesses. If a country goes against big business – the ones that employ people – the country goes south like it happened in Cuba.
Dominguez is far from alone in her thoughts. Many Latinos in and around Miami, as well as throughout Florida, see Republicans as the “prosperity” party, Cadava said.
“[The Republican party is seen as] the party that helps you get a good paying job, pay less tax and own a home,” Cadava added.
South Florida’s Latino Republican loyalists don’t necessarily feel akin to other immigrants fleeing violent, impoverished and corrupt countries — but who aren’t automatically granted asylum because their homelands aren’t ruled by dictatorial communist governments.
That might explain why they aren’t put off when DeSantis does something like arranging to transport 50 Venezuelan migrants to the wealthy liberal island of Martha’s Vineyard, a move he made recently and the legality of which is questioned amid allegations that migrants were deceived about where they were going.
Arisleidy Rodriguez, a 39-year-old mother of two who makes a living selling her husband’s art after he arrived in the United States more than two decades ago, said he will always mean more to her and many of his neighbors to ensure that his loved ones prosper. as some of the issues of social justice and equality around which the Democratic Party was built.
“When I vote, I think about the well-being of my children,” said Rodriguez, who noted that the news sources she trusted most were Facebook and the Cuban news site Cubanos por el Mundo. .
All of this leads Grenier to conclude that Democrats haven’t put together the organization necessary to overcome the anti-leftist narrative that Reagan began to ingrain deeply in voters like Rodriguez as control of Washington DC’s levers of power is in play in November.
“In Florida, you can’t just believe your ideas are right,” Grenier said. “You really have to get out there and get organised. Otherwise, people will not vote or will vote Republican.