Relaxed Cuba sanctions split South Florida voters

(Courtesy of Mattias Oben)

Sonia Caballero, 26, is an assistant site director at Breakthrough Miami, a nonprofit organization that helps high school students get into college. Her parents are from Cuba and moved to Miami before she was born. She strongly supports the Biden administration’s recent opening of trade and travel to Cuba.                           

“I think that loosening these restrictions will benefit our country,” she said. “It grants people the opportunity to connect with their own and others.”

The United States and Cuba have continuously faced challenges since 1959, when Fidel Castro overthrew a U.S.-backed government. The Biden administration recently loosened restrictions on travel to Cuba and family reunifications, which has sparked much conversation among Cuban-Americans. This could strongly affect on how South Florida votes during this fall’s primaries and the November 8 general election.

America’s first full embargo on Cuba was announced under the Kennedy administration on February 7, 1962. This fueled the Cuban missile crisis on October 14 of the same year after American spies discovered Soviet Union nuclear missile bases on the island. President Kennedy agreed to remove nuclear weapons from Turkey if the USSR removed them from Cuba. The first travel restriction followed in July 1963, when Kennedy banned citizens to travel to the island. Battles over trade and immigration have been constant ever since.

In 1966, Congress granted Cubans permanent residency after one year of living in the United States. In 1980, hundreds of thousands were welcomed into the country by President Jimmy Carter.

Big changes in immigration continued during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but Trump clamped down in 2019 by prohibiting educational and cultural trips, Cuban cigar and rum imports and reservations at hotels funded by the Cuban government. 

The Biden administration announced this past May 16 that it would expand flights to Cuba in an effort to loosen the travel restrictions set by Trump. The administration is also planning on reinstating the Family Reunification Parole Program, which would allow Cubans to legally bring close family members to the United States. 

Several Cuban Americans interviewed by SFMN had varying opinions on the measures – and also said they would be affected in varying ways by them.

Jonathan Correa, 25, works as a package handler and driver at UPS. He escaped the Communist country with his mother, Yuraima Marquez, when he was 11 years old. Some of Correa’s family still lives in Cuba and, with 20,000 applicants still waiting, his family may not be able to take part in the family reunification program anytime soon.

“My cousin wanted to come into the country illegally but now since this program is helping reunite families, my mom managed to convince him to wait until we can help him get into the country,” said Correa.

Some voters like Patrick Borges, a 23-year-old Miami-Dade College student who is pursuing his degree in information technology, would vote for candidates that do not support Biden’s move in aiding the island. His grandparents fled Cuba to have a better life in America, but Borges does not think Cuba deserves more help from the U.S. government.

“They’re getting more support now than they did when Castro first took over, and there was an embargo on Cuba completely, and look: nothing has changed,” said Borges. “If sending help has not changed anything, then at that point we’re supporting that government over there and encouraging them to take more from the people that they’re getting stuff for free anyways.”

Caballero hopes this move from the Biden administration helps Cuba slowly restore its once prosperous and affluent economy.

“The impact we make to help people in different countries says a lot about our nation and moral code,” said Caballero. “If we have more honest people in government positions that follow through on their political promises then maybe we will finally see a change in the nation.”

The general election on November 8 will determine who fills important roles in government. Many Cuban-American legislators are up for reelection. Among them are Republican Carlos A. Gimenez, who represents Florida’s 26th congressional district; Republican Bryan Avila, a member of the Florida House of Representatives; and Republican Ileana Garcia, a member of the Florida Senate. 

According to an article published by WPLG Local 10 News, Congressman Gimenez attended an event in Doral on May 20 where he denounced the new policy.

“Remittances no, I don’t believe that remittances should be higher because remittances end up in the Cuban government’s hands,” Gimenez said.

Although most Republican members are against the policy changes made by the Biden administration, they all do agree that the people of the island deserve a chance to rid themselves of the Castro regime once and for all.

In an interview with WPLG Local 10 news, Gimenez mentioned that the Cuban people do not need more remittances.

“They’re not asking for a vaccine, they’re not asking for food, they’re asking for freedom,” said the congressman.

Sen. Garcia and Rep. Avila supported a bill passed on March 3 that would gather members of the United Nations to address the many human rights violations taking place in Cuba.

“The Cuban government continues to repress all peaceful attempts by the Cuban people to bring democratic change to the island nation by denying universally recognized civil liberties,” Garcia said in a FloridaPolitics.com article. “It is the reason people have perished, drowned in international waters when fleeing in rafts.”

Caballero thinks this legislation would be a leap in the right direction.

“Everything that the Biden administration is doing to support Cuba would ultimately contribute to our nation’s growth and what America stands for: freedom, liberty and justice for all,” said Caballero.

Some candidates in the upcoming election have Cuban roots which they may implicate in their campaign by tackling issues on communism and the local economy. Voters should find the time to educate themselves on the profiles of each applicant running in their district policies to be voted on.

This story is part of a series on the significant issues facing voters this fall. To read the other parts, click here.

Carolina Villagra is pursuing a bachelor's degree in journalism at Florida International University. Her interests include writing poetry, reading philosophy books and the art of photography. She aspires to have her own podcast while working for the Los Angeles Times after she graduates.