FIU Poll: Most Cuban Americans Oppose Cuba Travel Restrictions

WASHINGTON -- A new poll released Monday shows that growing numbers of Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade oppose U.S. restrictions on travel to the island and favor more contacts with Havana.

The survey showed 55.2 percent of those polled favor ''unrestricted'' travel to Cuba, though a majority of those registered to vote opposed the option, and support for the embargo was at the lowest level since the survey was launched in 1991.

The results also show a community divided in opinions on Havana depending on the year of arrival, skeptical that a quick change will happen on the island, and attitudes that seem contradictory: A narrow majority favors a U.S. invasion of Cuba, but a bigger majority supports a restoration of diplomatic ties between Havana and Washington.

Another U.S. vs Cuba Custody Battle

The custody dispute over a Cuban girl in Miami seems like a sequel to the legal war over the fate of Elián González, the Cuban boy whose rescue at sea seven years ago became a long-running drama with the Clinton administration, many Miami exiles and Fidel Castro's government. Both children left Cuba with their mothers. The girl's mother was found unfit to care for her; Elián's mother died at sea. Then the Cuban fathers sought their return to the communist country. But for all the similarities disclosed in Saturday's Miami Herald story, their legal cases are vastly different, say experts and those involved in the Elián case.

Latell: How Long Will Peaceful Succession Last?

From Brian Latell's monthly report:

The dynastic transfer of power in Havana has proceeded peacefully for almost eight months now, but how much longer is the enforced tranquility likely to endure? What are some of the key variables that might begin to provoke instability in the new regime? And how might challenges to its legitimacy and authority begin to coalesce?

As I have observed in this series before, General Raul Castro has long demonstrated impressive leadership qualities that coexist unpredictably with his numerous deficiencies of character, public performance skills, and crisis management experience. How long Cuba’s veteran defense minister will be able to exercise power in his own right remains, therefore, as much a puzzle today as it has been since he was originally anointed first in the line of succession in January, 1959.

I am not aware of reports of popular disturbances or challenges of any kind to his leadership, although the regime of course has not been taking any chances. Elaborate security measures reportedly were implemented across the island late last July, just before the news of Fidel Castro’s surgery and provisional cession of power was revealed. Dissidents and human rights activists remain under brutal repression, pressure on foreign journalists has intensified, and security and intelligence forces remain more than usually energized and alert. But the prevailing calm is not likely to endure indefinitely.

A variety of shocks could spark destabilizing events at virtually any time and without warning. The announcement of Fidel Castro’s death, regardless of when that comes, could result, for example, in spontaneous demonstrations in a variety of locations, some of which might prove difficult for the regime to control. He has, after all, been the singular force, the galvanizing glue that has held the revolution fast since the 1950s. Whether mourning him or celebrating his demise, Cubans in large numbers may rush at once into the streets and plazas when they hear the news. The disappearances of previous Cuban dictators –including Batista on New Years Day, 1959-- sparked sporadic rioting and looting. Fidel Castro’s departure may be no different.

And what if Venezuelan oil shipments –valued at close to two and a quarter billion dollars last year—were suddenly to cease for whatever reason? The Cuban economy would plunge within a few weeks into deep recession characterized by transportation crises, food shortages, and power blackouts. Large demonstrations against the regime, similar to those that occurred in 1993 and 1994 during Cuba’s previous economic crisis could result.

How would Raul and his generals respond? It is widely supposed that he would abhor and resist the urge to dispatch military forces into a Tiananmen Square kind of massacre of protesting Cuban civilians. But would he refuse to issue such orders even if the survival of the communist regime were at stake? Such a crisis in the streets and within the top leadership might well cause command and control in the uniformed services to begin unraveling.

That is the most critical of all the key variables, now and into the current regime’s indefinite future. No destabilizing crisis has occurred in the military high command since the armed forces ministry was created under Raul Castro’s leadership in October 1959. The institution he built from rag-tag fragments remained cohesive, disciplined, motivated, and proud for decades later, though in recent years intersecting fault lines have probably deepened just below its surface. Whatever the rivalries and tensions may actually be within the top ranks, the possibility that command and control may begin to break down could already be higher than at any time in the past. And those odds would increase in the event of some other unpredictable, but not unlikely, development.

What if Raul Castro were to pre-decease his ailing brother? The eighty year old Fidel has been regaining strength and appeared the other day in a photo for the first time standing outside of his convalescent quarters, in a garden setting. He has gained weight and was heard recently talking to Hugo Chavez in a live broadcast. Meanwhile, Raul has seemed to recede so far this year. In January he remained out of public view for twenty- six days, generating speculation that he too is suffering from some major health problems or that he is tending to acute problems within the leadership.

He will be seventy-six on June 3, and in all likelihood is in fact afflicted by undisclosed infirmities. If he were to die before his brother, the odds would be high, I believe, that the resulting vacuum in the leadership would provoke a succession crisis. So far there is no designated “third man” who civilian and military leaders could readily rally around. There is perhaps only one top veteran of the armed forces –General Ulises Rosales del Toro—who might have sufficient stature to preserve military unity and thus stability on the island if both Castros were absent or incapacitated. Other than del Toro, there may be no other officer, including the respected Chief of Staff Alvaro Lopez Miera or the Western Army chief Leopoldo Cintra Frias, whose orders would be obeyed by other ranking generals.

And alternatively, what if a recuperating Fidel Castro were to insist on returning to the full or nearly complete exercise of his previous powers? However improbable that appears at the moment, given his likely mental and psychological impairments, as well as his obvious physical debilities, an effort to reassert his personal hegemony would be consistent with his behavior dating back at least six decades. How would Raul and most of the elders closely associated with him respond? Would they want him or allow him back at the helm?

All of them have grown accustomed since last July 31 to much larger and more conspicuous leadership roles than Fidel ever permitted them to play. They have developed and begun to articulate new policy agendas, if mostly so far only in the form of vague promises, which are nonetheless distinctly different from the stubborn ideological orthodoxies long identified with Fidel.

U.S.: Castro Still Controls

Stepping back from previous assertions that Fidel Castro was near death, U.S. officials say that the image of an increasingly revitalized Castro is impeding the island's day-to-day leadership from making major changes.

Thomas Shannon, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America and the Caribbean, told The Miami Herald in an interview Wednesday that Cuba was in a period of ''suspended animation'' as Castro exerted a ''controlling political presence'' on the island.

Political Candidates Trip on Exile Politics

People chuckled when presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon raised in Michigan and elected in Massachusetts, bungled the names of Cuban-American politicians during a recent speech in Miami.

But when he mistakenly associated Fidel Castro's trademark speech-ending slogan -- Patria o muerte, venceremos! -- with a free Cuba, listeners didn't laugh. They winced.

Castro has closed his speeches with the phrase -- in English, ''Fatherland or death, we shall overcome'' -- for decades.

''Clearly, that's something he was ill-advised on or didn't do his homework on,'' said Hialeah City Council President Esteban Bovo. ``When you get cute with slogans, you get yourself into a trap.''

Romney's fumble demonstrates the potential snags for state and national politicians trying to navigate the Cuban-American community of South Florida.

Romney: Keep the Embargo

Statement from Mitt Romney's campaign:

Mitt_romney In An Interview With WIOD Radio (3/8) Today, Governor Romney Called For The Continuation Of The Cuban Embargo. “I am in favor of the embargo. I believe that any effort that would put more money in the hands of the Castro brothers in not a good idea,” said the Governor. “I think we need to continue the pressure and to develop a Latin American strategy that will move more countries towards us and away from the Castro brothers and individuals like Hugo Chavez.”

Bush Talks Cuba Democracy on Eve of Trip

Presidentbush_2 WASHINGTON, USA (Reuters): Communist rule of Cuba should end when ailing leader Fidel Castro dies, US President George W. Bush said as he prepared for a Latin American tour seen as aiming to counter a regional shift to the left.

Bush's trip, starting in Brazil on Thursday, is widely viewed as offering a counterpoint to the populist appeal of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose nationalization plans he criticized.

"I strongly believe that government-run industry is inefficient and will lead to more poverty," Bush told newspaper reporters on Tuesday in remarks released on Wednesday.

"If the state tries to run the economy, it will enhance poverty and reduce opportunity."

Bush also made clear he is keeping an eye on Cuba and its long-time leader.

Battle Over Cuba Policy Heats Up

Supporters of U.S. sanctions against Cuba are mounting a congressional counteroffensive to keep the U.S. policy in place.

Rep. Albio Sires gets personal when he asks fellow lawmakers to reject efforts to ease economic sanctions against his native Cuba. ''I just tell them about my story,'' says the New Jersey Democrat.

Commerce Sec.: Don't Change Cuba Policy Now

From the AP:

   WASHINGTON -- (AP) -- Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said Wednesday it would be a "great disservice'' for the Cuban people if the United States eased economic and political ties with the island in the post-Fidel Castro era.

  "Cuba is at a critical point in its history," Gutierrez said. "The country is poised for change. The policy of the Bush administration has been to help the Cuban people achieve their freedom through democratic change."

   The United States, he said, must not legitimize a successor regime by "helping it maintain its tight grip over the Cuban people."

   Gutierrez serves as co-chairman of an official commission which made recommendations for Cuba policy after Castro passes from the scene. He spoke to the Council of the Americas, a pro-business group.

   Gutierrez's speech was devoted mostly to the plight of the Cuban people under the system Castro created 48 years ago. He omitted any reference to Castro's brother Raul, who has served as acting president since the 80-year old leader fell ill last July.

   "The embargo is not the problem or the solution," Gutierrez said. "The problem is the repressive communist system. The solution is to change the system."

Religious Groups Feel Cut Off From Cuba

Fernando_heria A wing under construction at St. Brendan Catholic School in Miami harbors a pile of goodwill -- some of it withering in the dank humidity -- that was meant to be delivered to Cuba's needy.

Donated diapers, baby formula, wheelchairs, even Christmas decorations are stacked from floor to ceiling.

But for almost two years, the Archdiocese of Miami has had little face-to-face contact with Catholics in Cuba, a byproduct of tightened travel restrictions for religious organizations imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department.


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