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Strife, Mutual Interests Mark Cuba-US Ties

Flags of Cuba and the U.S. flutter in Havana, Cuba, Dec. 19, 2014.
Flags of Cuba and the U.S. flutter in Havana, Cuba, Dec. 19, 2014.

Separated by 90 miles, the United States and Cuba have had a long history of discord and shared interests.

Cuba's proximity to the United States made it a one-time vacation destination for Americans before Cuban rebel Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 and established a socialist government. Over the decades of the U.S.-imposed embargo, travel all but dried up.

Instead, many Cubans sought refuge across the Florida Straits. There are now 1.9 million people living in the U.S. who identify as Cuban — one of the largest contingents from Latin America.

Sixty-eight percent of Cuban immigrants live in Florida. Economically, Cuban-American income falls between the broader group of Latinos/Hispanics and overall U.S. rates.

For example, in 2011 the median yearly income for Cuban-Americans was $24,400 — above the Hispanic median income of $20,000, but below the entire U.S. median of $29,000.

The same goes for home ownership (56 percent) and educational attainment (25 percent with at least a bachelor's degree).

'Wet foot, dry foot'

After decades of Cuban arrivals by boat and U.S. Coast Guard rescue at sea, the U.S. altered its policy and implemented the "wet foot, dry foot" rule in 1995.

Cubans arriving on U.S. shores must make landfall to qualify for legal permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship. Otherwise, they are repatriated. The number of migrants caught off the Florida shore dropped dramatically from a peak of 38,560 in 1994 to 525 the following year, but has grown again off and on since.

The U.S. Coast Guard reports that in fiscal 2014, 2,059 Cubans were caught offshore, the highest number in six years and more than all other nationalities combined.


Younger Cuban-Americans favor rapprochement between Washington and Havana more strongly than older Cubans in the U.S., according to a survey released this year by Florida International University.

In the Miami area, where much of the Cuban-American population is concentrated, 90 percent of younger generations back renewed diplomatic relations. Among those over age 70, that share drops to one-third.

And overall, three out of four Cubans polled believe U.S. sanctions on Cuban haven't worked, or at least not very well.

Support for the embargo declined over time, the survey shows, with 87 percent backing it in the early 1990s but only 48 percent in May of this year.

Cubans-Americans in politics

There are six sitting Cuban-American members of Congress — four Republicans and two Democrats. In a resoundingly partisan legislature that generally votes along party lines, Cuban-American politicians, regardless of political affiliation, are united in their opposition to Washington-Havana rapprochement.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican, Florida: "Obama’s new Cuba policy is a victory for oppressive governments the world over and will have real, negative consequences for the American people."

Sen. Bob Menendez, Democrat, New Jersey: "The United States has just thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline. ... This is a reward that a totalitarian regime does not deserve, and this announcement only perpetuates the Castro regime’s decades of repression."

Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican, Texas: "We have seen how previous Obama administration attempts at rapprochement with rogue regimes like Russia and Iran have worked out, with our influence diminished and our enemies emboldened. Now they are revisiting this same disastrous policy with the Castros."

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican, Florida: "These changes to policy will further embolden the Cuban dictatorship to continue brutalizing and oppressing its own people as well as other Anti-American dictatorship and terrorist organizations."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican, Florida: "The liberalization policies aimed at easing trade and remittances to Cuba is another propaganda coup for the Castro brothers, who will now fill their coffers with more money at the expense of the Cuban people."

Rep. Albio Sires, Democrat, New Jersey: "The president’s announcement today detailing plans for a loosening of sanctions and initiating discussions to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba is naive and disrespectful to the millions of Cubans that have lived under the Castros’ repressive regime."