Barack Obama was elected president on a platform of change, but one thing he promised to keep largely the same was U.S. policy toward Cuba. This position is itself a change from Obama’s previous stance on the issue.
In January 2004, Illinois State Senator Barack Obama told an audience at Southern Illinois University, “I think it’s time for us to end the embargo with Cuba. … It’s time for us to acknowledge that that particular policy has failed.”
Yet in August 2007, U.S. senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama told another audience in Miami’s Little Havana that he would not lift the embargo but rather take a more nuanced approach that includes lifting restrictions on travel to the island for Cuban-Americans and limits on remittances to Cuba.
Candidate Obama repeated the pledge at a Cuban Independence Day luncheon hosted by the once-powerful Cuban American National Foundation in May of this year. At the luncheon, Obama chided “typical” politicians who come to Miami: “They talk tough, they go back to Washington, and nothing changes in Cuba.” He then stated that his policies would be guided by “libertad” (liberty) for the Cuban people.
If one is to believe Obama, his change of heart came because he realized that the embargo “is an important inducement for change,” but a cynic might see his conversion as an easy play for Cuban-American votes.
The truth is that if it was a play, it didn’t work very well. Preliminary exit poll data that has been released suggests that Obama only obtained a McGovernesque 35% of the Cuban vote and I have examined actual precinct-level election results that suggest that he obtained less than 30%. Regardless of which number you believe, it’s obvious that Cubans, for the most part, did not support Obama and his plan to unilaterally thaw relations between Washington and Cuba, and they certainly didn’t put him over the top in Florida.
Additionally, the three Cuban-American Republican incumbent representatives won reelection, two of them quite easily. The signal sent by Cuban-Americans is that they prefer the current hard line to any policy that would give the Castro regime legitimacy and more importantly cash with which it can continue to repress Cubans on the island, especially with a moribund Fidel Castro and a weakened regime leadership under his brother Raul.