Cuban-American support for embargo fading: poll

MIAMI Wed Dec 3, 2008 2:37pm EST

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MIAMI (Reuters) - In a dramatic shift, a new poll shows most Cuban-Americans in Florida favor lifting the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

Fifty-five percent of participants in the poll, which signals hope for better U.S.-Cuba relations, said they oppose continuing the embargo that the United States has maintained against the communist-ruled island for nearly five decades.

The poll was conducted by Florida International University shortly after the U.S. presidential election and marks the first, since it began surveying attitudes toward Cuba in 1991, in which a majority of Cuban-Americans opposed the trade ban.

In an FIU poll last year, only 42 percent of respondents in the Miami-Dade County area, the traditional heartland of exile opposition to Fidel Castro, said they opposed continuing the embargo.

Miami's 650,000 Cuban exiles account for more than a quarter of the population of the greater Miami area, making the city a bastion of staunch anti-Castro sentiment that has long wielded a disproportionate influence over U.S. policy toward Cuba.

The hard-liners are fading in the face of a changing exile community, however, and analysts say younger Cuban-Americans, in particular, are more concerned with domestic issues like the U.S. economy than they are with the political situation in Cuba.

"The (poll) result demonstrates a continuing shift in attitudes by Cuban-Americans and reflects a generational rift between those Cuban-Americans who arrived in the U.S. in the 1960s and those who came to the U.S. in the 1980s or later," FIU said in a statement.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has stopped short of saying he supports lifting the embargo against Cuba, which Washington has repeatedly vowed to enforce until Cuba's government releases political prisoners, grants basic freedoms and schedules internationally monitored elections.

But Obama has said he would end the restrictions on travel to Cuba by Cuban-Americans imposed by President George W. Bush to toughen the embargo in 2004, and 66 percent of those polled by FIU said they support ending the travel restrictions too.

Obama has also said he favors talks or direct diplomacy with the new Cuban government of President Raul Castro, who formally took over from his ailing brother earlier this year.

Sixty-five percent of participants in the FIU survey said they favored reestablishing U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba, up from 57 percent a year earlier.

President Dwight Eisenhower severed relations with Havana in 1961, two years after Fidel Castro seized power in an armed revolution that toppled a U.S. backed dictator.

(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Jane Sutton)

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