The Cuban-American Vote in 2016

There is a lesson here for other minority communities throughout the United States, who are similarly taken for granted by the Democratic Party. As minority communities, they need to break the unwarranted stronghold of political parties on their vote, and make sure that their personal political ideas line up with the platforms of those they choose to support. The Cuban-American community has done it this electoral year.

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By José Azel l September 26, 2016

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Historically, the Cuban-American community has been considered a political monolith, voting mostly in support of the Republican Party, at least at the national level. To the extent that this has been true, it has been most applicable to the early exile community we now call the historicos.

The origins of this early exile support for the Republican Party can be reasonably traced to U.S. foreign policy, and to President Eisenhower’s robust anti-communist posture. Eisenhower and his Republican Party’s anti-Castro stance were followed by the cannibalization of the Bay of Pigs invasion plans under the Democratic leadership of President Kennedy and the resulting failure of the invasion.

This visible foreign policy dichotomy set the stage for the political voting path of the early exiles as they became American citizens. The topic of U.S.-Cuba policy then became of foremost importance for the new Cuban-American voters.

In time, most of the historicos began embracing the domestic policy tenets of the Republican Party of limited government, strong national defense, states’ rights, and individual responsibility. Historicos also developed an aversion for socialist-like policies of any kind. For the most part, the offspring’s of the historicos made their parents’ anti-socialism their own, perpetuating the monolithic image of the Cuban-American electorate.

The arrival of later exile communities, raised under the Castro regime, and imbued with socialist ideology, began eroding the uniform political composition of the Cuban-American community at large. But the historicos remained committed Republicans, until this year.

This year, all presidential candidates favor a continuation of the U.S.-Cuba policy advanced by President Obama. Their philosophical underpinnings and tone may differ, but all the candidates support the rapprochement with the Cuban regime. For historicos Cuban-Americans, this signaled that one of their main issues was not at play in the 2016 election.

This year, three historicos Cuban-American friends- let’s call them Miguel, Rogelio, and José- will vote differently for the first time. As far back as I can remember, these friends have always supported Republican candidates in the presidential elections. They are emblematic of the historicos’ generation. Their votes this election cycle may not necessarily be enthusiastic, but Rogelio will vote for Republican Donald Trump, Miguel will vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton, and José will vote for Gary Johnson the Libertarian candidate. The three amigos will go their own way politically. The Republican Party failed them.

Some may despair at this political disunity in the Cuban-American community, once solidly Republican. I welcome and celebrate it. It means that we are not a single issue voter community. It means that we are not an unthinking mass that can be easily manipulated by political rhetoric. It means that we cannot be taken for granted by the dominant political parties. It means that our vote has to be earned. It means that we have matured as citizens. It means we have learned that a political adversary is not equivalent to a lifetime enemy. It means that we are committed to the democratic process.

There is a lesson here for other minority communities throughout the United States, who are similarly taken for granted by the Democratic Party. As minority communities, they need to break the unwarranted stronghold of political parties on their vote, and make sure that their personal political ideas line up with the platforms of those they choose to support. The Cuban-American community has done it this electoral year.

This confused presidential election cycle has forced the political sophistication of the Cuban-American community to blossom in all the splendor of its diversity. Sociopolitical diversity is not a weakness, it is strength. The same should happen with the African-American community, the Mexican-American community and all minority communities, whose votes are taken for granted by the major political parties.

We should rejoice in our political diversity. This coming election night, the three amigos will argue vigorously over dinner on their political choices, and they will raise their glasses to toast, not a victorious political candidate, or party; their salute will be to celebrate our magnificent democracy.


José Azel arrived in the U.S. in 1961 from communist Cuba as a 13 year-old political exile with Operation Pedro Pan, the largest unaccompanied child refugee movement in the history of the Western Hemisphere. He is currently a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami. Dr. Azel earned a Masters Degree in Business Administration and a Ph.D. in International Affairs from the University of Miami, and is author of Mañana in Cuba: The Legacy of Castroism and Transitional Challenges for Cuba. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.