In my recent article 50 years of U.S. embargo against Cuba I tried to give some information about the history of Cuba and how the U.S. embargo came about. I did not however go in too much details regarding the question as to why the embargo is still in place and what does this say about democracy or rather the lack of it. This is the purpose of the following essay.
First we need to take a look at Cuban immigration to the U.S. in terms of numbers and preferred locations. Second, we need to enquire shortly into the U.S. electoral system and its peculiarities. Third, conclusion.
Cuban migration to the USA has a long tradition. But it was Fidel Castro‘s revolution of 1953-59 that made Cubans leave their country in unprecedented numbers (about 700,000 during the 1st of 4 major immigration waves in the years immediately after the revolution). Many migrated to South Florida to settle (temporarily as they believed at the time) in and around Miami. Miami alone has now a Cuban population of 856,007 out of 1,785,547 or 0.6% of the total US population (2010). It’s not a huge number in the national context but a number significant enough to alter the social fabric and therefore the voting pattern of Florida with important implications for national politics. So let’s have a look at the electoral system to understand why. We focus here on the U.S. presidential elections.
The U.S. president gets elected by indirect voting through an institution called Electoral College. 538 electors represent 50 U.S. states and Washington D.C. U.S. citizens cast their ballots (popular vote) on Election Day. Electors are supposed to vote according to the results of the popular vote in the state they represent. The candidate that receives at least 270 electorial votes is elected.
What about Florida? Florida is the 4th largest state by population. In the presidential elections 2012 it will have 29 electors (2 more than in 2008). It awards all of its electorial votes to the candidate with the highest percentage of popular votes, without the requirement that the winner must gain an absolute majority of votes (plurality voting system). It is the largest swing state (no candidate can be sure to win here easily). It’s therefore a battleground in every presidential race, a site of fierce campaigning. It is a state that makes or breaks the future president.
The key for winning Florida holds its Cuban immigrant community. Its voting power can tip the balance in ether directions, even though it represents only a minority of the state’s population. Organisations like the Cuban American National Foundation lobby actively using their huge political leverage. One of their main issue is of course the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Most of first-generation Cuban-Americans are in favour of it.
In the words of Gary Hart:
Future students of American history will be scratching their heads about this case for decades to come. Our embargo and refusal to normalize diplomatic relations has nothing to do with communism. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War, with China since Nixon, and with Vietnam despite our bitter war there. No, Cuba was pure politics. Though it started out to be a measure of an administration’s resistance to Castro’s politics, it very soon became a straight-jacket whereby first-generation Cuban-Americans wielded inordinate political power over both parties and constructed a veto over rational, mature diplomacy. (Gary Hart, former U.S. Senator, March 2011)
Let’s conclude. A very controversial piece of U.S. foreign policy is maintained over 50 years because of U.S. domestic politics. Only 0.6% of the national population determine the course of U.S. action in relation to Cuba. That’s an absurd situation.
The embargo should be lifted for at least 3 reasons:
- Millions of people suffer;
- The embargo did not end Fidel Castro’s rule over Cuba, on the contrary, it is contra productive since it provides the regime with an easy excuse for economical shortcomings and deficiencies but also for repressions against dissenters;
- It is basically undemocratic.