Triumph of the Zealots

A small cadre of exile fanatics now controls the Bush administration's Cuba policy, and Fidel Castro couldn't be happier

Who do they represent? A 2000 poll by Florida International University is the only survey that compares the views of Miami Cubans, non-Cuban Miamians, and a national sample of Americans. It showed that unrestricted travel to Cuba was favored by 63 percent of Americans nationwide, 53 percent of Cubans in Miami, and 75 percent of non-Cubans in this city.

One group, however, was opposed to free travel: Cuban Americans who arrived in the United States before 1975. While 74 percent of those who arrived after 1984 supported free travel, 60 percent of those who arrived before 1975 opposed it. Two-thirds of this latter group would also support U.S. military action in Cuba, a move opposed by 82 percent of Americans nationally.

These results reflect demographic statistics showing that Cubans who have arrived in recent decades now outnumber the historical exiles of the Sixties and Seventies; newer immigrants simply don't share the old guard's radical views on key issues like travel. But the historical exiles have acquired citizenship, registered to vote, and nearly always go to the polls. According to figures reported in a poll by Sergio Bendixen, old-guard exiles have voting power disproportionate to their numbers. Cubans are now slightly less than 50 percent of the Hispanic population of Miami-Dade, but 75 percent of all Hispanic voters are Cuban. According to Bendixen, Cubans who arrived before 1980 account for 50 percent of the 437,332 Hispanic registered voters in the county. Cubans who have arrived since 1980 account for only fifteen percent. Among the old guard, voter turnout is very high.

But the balance of power will change, and not just because of mortality. The new wave, aroused by policies championed by the old guard that seriously hinder efforts to maintain family bonds, will begin registering and voting. For the time being, though, the majority of Cubans in the United States, whose freedom to travel is violated by a minority who speak in the name of freedom, lack more than voting clout. They don't hold political office. They are not in Congress or the state legislature. They don't run corporations. They don't have any members in the Miami Business Forum. They don't chair the chamber of commerce or the United Way. Few are able to give big political contributions, and none host fundraisers for U.S. presidential candidates.

The historical exiles who arrived in the Sixties (and their children) have a monopoly on positions of power. They are using their advantage to impose a tyranny on their fellow Cubans through a cruel and unjust use of authority. In the process, the freedom of all Americans is curtailed, and the underpinnings of a future imperial adventure are established.

Almost all newer arrivals do have one thing historical exiles commonly lack: close family and friends in Cuba. Many are only now realizing they will be denied the chance to visit a parent, a child, a spouse, or a sibling except every three years, and then only if a bureaucrat in Washington deems it appropriate to grant them a special license.

Their unhappiness with this state of affairs has just begun to be felt. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the epitome of a hardliner, got a taste of it the day before travel restrictions went into effect. At Miami International Airport he encountered a group of furious Cuban Americans who wanted to beat the deadline and travel on planes headed for Cuba to pick up passengers. But they ended up stranded at MIA when the State Department prohibited them from boarding the empty flights. Such fury, if channeled into political action, could bring regime change to Miami and Washington well before it happens in Havana.

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