Cuban Americans split over U.S. embargo on Cuba: poll

MIAMI Tue Sep 1, 2009 12:03pm EDT

A Cuban-American couple attend the Cuba Nostalgia festival in Miami, Florida May 16, 2009. Graffiti say ''Down with the Castro Dictatorship!''. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

A Cuban-American couple attend the Cuba Nostalgia festival in Miami, Florida May 16, 2009. Graffiti say ''Down with the Castro Dictatorship!''.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria

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MIAMI (Reuters) - Cuban-Americans are divided about whether the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba should remain in place, a recent poll shows, but support for keeping the sanctions appears to have slipped.

The poll, conducted by Miami-based pollsters Bendixen & Associates and published by the Miami Herald on Tuesday, showed 41 percent of Cuban Americans were against maintaining the embargo, while 40 percent were in favor of keeping it.

Fernand Amandi, executive vice president of Bendixen, which has long studied the 1.5 million-member Cuban American community in the United States, told the Miami Herald the survey reflected an "evolution of thought" among many exiles.

"After 50 years, some Cubans have come to the painful revelation that the embargo might not have been the most effective tool against the Castro regime," he said.

Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution in Cuba led to a rapid deterioration of relations with the United States. Washington broke off diplomatic ties with Havana in 1961 and imposed a trade embargo in 1962, citing Cuban nationalization of U.S. businesses and worries over Castro's shift to communism.

Bendixen's Amandi said the high level of support reflected in the latest poll for ending the U.S. economic sanctions would have been "heresy" six or seven years ago, when backing for the embargo was more solid among the Cuban exile community.

Bendixen conducted the poll on August 24, interviewing 400 Cuban American adults nationally. The poll had a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

Since taking office in January, President Barack Obama has said he wants to forge a "new beginning" in U.S. ties with Cuba and in April he slightly eased the embargo by lifting restrictions on family visits to the island by Cuban Americans and on remittances they can send to relatives there.

A Bendixen poll in April showed 64 percent of Cuban Americans supported that softening of the embargo by Obama.

Obama has also resumed talks on migration with the government of President Raul Castro, who took over the Cuban presidency from his elder brother Fidel last year, and diplomats say discussions on re-establishing direct postal service are set to be held this month.

Analysts say a generational shift has taken place in the Cuban exile community in recent decades, with younger, more recent arrivals favoring increased links with Cuba, while older "historical" exiles are more entrenched in their opposition to the Castros and in their support for the embargo.

The August 24 poll showed that while 62 percent of Cuban Americans who arrived in the United States in the 1960s or before wanted to keep the embargo, most of those who arrived from the 1980s onward favored ending it.

While reaching out to Havana, Obama has made clear he intends to keep the embargo in place until the Cuban government commits to freeing detained dissidents and improving human rights. Cuba's leaders have ruled out any "concessions" or shifting to capitalism.

(Reporting by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Jane Sutton and Eric Beech)

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