All Americans should be allowed travel to Cuba, says new poll

News from Cuba | Wednesday, 21 October 2009

BY JUAN O. TAMAYO for the Miami Herald

A new poll of Cuban Americans shows a strong majority favor allowing all Americans to travel to the island, a major shift from a 2002 survey that showed only a minority supporting the change, the Bendixen & Associates polling firm reported Tuesday.

Executive Vice President Fernand Amandi said he was surprised by the magnitude of the swing in just seven years -- from 46 percent in favor in 2002 to 59 percent in the Sept. 24-26 survey. Only 29 percent were opposed in the new survey, compared to 47 percent in 2002.

``The significant thing is how quickly they have moved in a short period of time," Amandi said, adding that the shift took place across all age groups, from older exiles to more recent arrivals.

A campaign to allow all Americans to travel to Cuba has become a key Washington battle ground this year for those who favor and oppose easing U.S. sanctions on the island. Permitting such travel would allow U.S. tourists to visit Cuba. Only Cuban Americans are now allowed virtually unrestricted travel to the island.

At least three bills lifting all restrictions on travel are now before Congress -- two in the House and one in the Senate. While most analysts believe the House may well approve some version of the measure, they say it will have little chance of gaining Senate approval because of opposition from Sen. Bob Menendez, a powerful Democrat.

Amandi noted that the results of the September poll should disarm the argument that the travel restrictions on Americans cannot be eased because of the political power of Cuban Americans who oppose it. ``This removes the final fig leaf for why the time has not come to change policy -- that Cuban Americans were opposed," he said.

Florida's Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban American and ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, predicted the ban on American travel will not be lifted and had a different take on Cuban-American sentiments.

``The majority of Cuban Americans want the Cuban people to have free elections, guaranteed human rights and freedom for political prisoners. That is what constituents in South Florida want," she said in a statement to El Nuevo Herald.

Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., a key sponsor of one of the House bills, noted Cuba is the only country where American tourists cannot visit and said the new poll shows Cuban Americans support a more open approach to Havana, except for ``a dwindling clique locked into a Cold War mentality."

The latest Bendixen survey, conducted on the phone, had a sample of 400 Cuban Americans across the United States and a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. The poll was not commissioned by anyone and Bendixen, which has done several other surveys on Cuba issues, conducted the poll on its own, said Amandi.

Bendixen reported the latest poll also showed that lifting the travel restrictions on Americans was supported by 48 percent of Cuban Americans who arrived in the United States before 1980 -- the so-called ``historic" exiles. In 2002, that number was only 32 percent.

A ``generational gap" remains, however, with the latest survey showing that 62 percent of Cuban Americans 18 to 64 years of age support lifting all travel restrictions, while 49 percent of those 65 or older favor the change, the company added.

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