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UNITED STATES: HOW DID LATINOS VOTE?

Eric Hershberg, Director of the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies and Professor of Government, American University.

AULA Blog, November 17, 2020

Original Article: United States: How Did Latinos Vote?

Amid considerable discussion of how the Latino vote in the U.S. Presidential election impacted the outcome, evidence already shows that Latino voters played an important role in Joe Biden’s razor-thin majority in key states and will be a crucial, if diverse, electorate in the future. A frequent trope is that there is no such thing as the Latino vote, given the heterogeneity of the population that identifies as Latino (or Hispanic, Latina, or Latinx). Latino voters are of diverse national origin, geographic location, educational achievement, income, language preference, and religiosity. Some trace their roots in the United States back many generations, while others are immigrants. These factors conditioned voter behavior on November 3.

  • Exit polls, which are not entirely reliable, indicate that the 13 percent of the electorate that self-identified as Latino voted 65-32 percent for Biden over Trump. This was roughly in line with forecasts. Although the respected polling firm Latino Decisions announced on the eve of the election that at no point in its surveys did Trump exceed 30 percent of voter intentions, the eventual outcome was within the margin of error. The more notable polling miss was with the broader electorate: nationwide polling anticipated a gap of 5-12 percent between Biden and Trump in the popular vote, which in fact turned out to be around 4 percent.
  • As with the white electorate, there was a notable gender gap among Latinos: The margin in favor of the Biden-Harris ticket was 69-30 percent among Latina women versus 59-36 percent among Latino men, totals that replicated almost perfectly the 2016 contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton. Age was a factor as well. Biden came out ahead by 69-28 percent among Latinos under 30, contrasted with 58-40 percent among those over 60 years of age. This is not remarkable, since young white voters also trended similarly toward the Democrats. Evidence suggests that Trump made inroads among non-college educated males, mirroring his strong performance among white males with lower educational levels.

Several factors may account for what some observers deemed a surprising level of Latino support for a president whose explicit racism had not disgraced the presidency since the days of Woodrow Wilson more than a century ago.

  • Cuban-Americans and migrants from Latin American countries who frame their life experiences as resisting or escaping socialism tilted strongly to Trump, whose campaign spent months branding Biden and Democrats more generally as “socialists.” Painting the Democrats as a red menace was critical in Florida, as the Latino vote helped to deliver the state to Trump and unseated Democratic House incumbents from Miami-Dade County.
  • Evangelical Latinos, like evangelical whites, disproportionately cast their votes for Republicans. Just as socially conservative evangelicals have been a powerful force in Latin American elections, they are and will remain so in the United States. Trump’s success in appointing judges opposed to abortion rights and same sex marriage helps to explain his strong performance with this segment of the electorate, some of which identifies as Latino.
  • Law and order was another theme pushed in Trump advertisements and actions. The specter of leftists defunding the police weighed heavily in some sub-sets of the Latino electorate. Images of children in cages that were promulgated by Democratic Party advocates did little to sway voters in Texas, where jobs in policing and border enforcement involve placing migrants in those very cages. This may in part account for Trump’s surprising strength among Latinos in sparsely populated Texas counties in the Rio Grande Valley. While this has attracted the attention of many pundits, this small swath of voters was more than outweighed by unprecedented turnout for the Democratic ticket among urban Latinos in Texas.

A number of factors operated in Biden’s favor. Most important was the government’s grossly inadequate response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has affected Latinos disproportionately. That a Biden administration would consolidate Obamacare became all the more relevant in the context of the pandemic. The Administration’s assault on immigrant rights mattered as well for many Latino voters.

The impressive margins that Biden racked up among Latinos contributed to his victory in the key battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, and it almost secured the electoral votes of North Carolina. If Latinos – the most rapidly expanding segment of the electorate – continue to favor Democrats, they will prove central to a coalition that might advance the Democrats’ standing in the 2022 mid-term elections and dictate the outcome of the presidential contest in 2024.

  • More immediately, the Latino vote could prove crucial in the January run-off elections for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats, which will determine whether the Biden Administration has a working majority or faces a wall of resistance from Mitch McConnell’s GOP. More than a quarter million Latinos are registered to vote in Georgia, which Biden won by less than 15,000 votes. According to exit polls, Biden won support from Latinos in that state at a rate of 62-39 percent. That is not an overwhelming margin, but in a cliffhanger election that mere 5 percent of the electorate could be critical to determining the relationship between the White House and Senate for the next couple of years.

November 17, 2020

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CUBA’S ECONOMIC CRISIS IS SPURRING MUCH-NEEDED ACTION ON REFORMS

William M. LeoGrande, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020

Complete Article:  ACTION ON REFORMS

Cuba’s economy was already struggling before the coronavirus pandemic, due to persistently poor domestic productivity, declining oil shipments from Venezuela and the ratcheting up of U.S. sanctions. But now, the closure of the tourist sector due to COVID-19 has thrown Cuba into a full-fledged recession, deeper than anything since the economic crisis of the 1990s that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union—what Cubans know as the “Special Period.”

Perhaps paradoxically, the downturn also appears to have broken a logjam of disagreement among Cuba’s senior leaders and accelerated the implementation of economic reforms. Reforms entail risks, President Miguel Diaz-Canel told the Council of Ministers this summer, but “the worst risk would be in not changing and in losing popular support.”

In 2011, the Cuban Communist Party approved a new economic policy to promote growth by giving freer rein to market forces; requiring unproductive state-owned enterprises to make a profit, even if it means laying off workers; promoting small private businesses; and attracting foreign direct investment. Over the ensuing years, however, implementation slowed to a glacial pace, at least in part because of resistance from some segments of the Cuban political elite who stood to lose from the changes. With the economy buoyed by cheap oil from Venezuela and a booming tourist sector, the need for reform was less urgent.

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Still, economic growth lagged. GDP increased at an average rate of just 2.1 percent from 2011 to 2019, and only 1.3 percent since 2016. The anemic growth in recent years reflects those declining oil shipments from Venezuela, which Caracas provides in exchange for medical services from Cuban doctors and technicians. In 2016, then-President Raul Castro had to declare an energy emergency and begin rationing fuel to state-owned enterprises.

The one bright spot in the domestic economy has been the spectacular growth of Cuba’s tourist sector in the past three decades. From 1991 to 2018, the number of foreign visitors increased more than 11-fold, from just over 400,000 to 4.7 million. The tourist sector got another big boost in 2014, when then-President Barack Obama agreed with Castro to begin normalizing relations, and the Obama administration eliminated most restrictions on U.S. travel. The number of non-Cuban American U.S. visitors jumped six-fold, from 92,325 in 2014 to a peak of 637,907 in 2018. Including Cuban Americans, U.S. visitors in 2018 comprised about a quarter of all foreign visitors to the island.

But President Donald Trump immediately pledged to “cancel” Obama’s opening to Cuba when he took office in 2017. The Trump administration launched a concerted “maximum pressure” campaign, designed to systematically cut off Cuba’s principal sources of foreign currency. To deter foreign investors, Trump activated Title III of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act last year, enabling U.S. nationals who lost property after the 1959 revolution, including Cuban Americans, to sue Cuban, U.S. or foreign companies in U.S. federal court for “trafficking” in their confiscated property—that is, making beneficial use of it.

Faithfully executed, the reforms could boost productivity significantly over the next year or two, but shorter-term relief for Cuba will depend on circumstances beyond its control.

The administration also targeted Cuba’s energy supply by imposing sanctions on companies shipping Venezuelan oil to Cuba, aggravating fuel shortages. The State Department pressured other countries to end their partnerships with Cuba’s international medical assistance programs—a major source of foreign exchange earnings for Havana—and conservative governments in Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and El Salvador quickly obliged. The Brazilian program, by far the largest, involved over 11,000 medical personnel, generating $250 million in annual revenue for Cuba.

But Trump’s most serious blows have focused on travel and remittances. The administration eliminated the people-to-people category of legal travel, thereby blocking the majority of non-Cuban American travelers; severed commercial and charter air links to all Cubans cities except Havana; and banned U.S. cruise ships, which carried some 800,000 people to Cuba in 2018, from docking there. This campaign led to a 20 percent drop in the number of foreign visitors to the island in the early months of 2020 before the onset of COVID-19.

Remittances, which Obama removed limits on in 2009, were capped at $1,000 per quarter. Then, just weeks before the presidential election, Trump announced new rules prohibiting Cuban Americans from sending remittances through Cuban money transfer companies run by the armed forces, which includes almost all of them. The restrictions, which are set to go into effect later this month, would produce deep suffering among the roughly 60 percent of Cubans who rely on $3.6 billion in cash remittances annually for sustenance.

Then came the pandemic. Although Cuba has had considerable success containing COVID-19, by virtue of a health care system premised on prevention and a disaster response apparatus second to none, the impact on Cuba’s economy has been catastrophic. In March, Cuba closed the island to all foreign visitors and has only gradually begun to reopen some of the more remote tourist resorts in the Cuban Keys. The closure has cost Cuba some $3 billion in lost revenue; estimates are that GDP has contracted by 8 percent this year. The shortages of basic commodities, including food and medicine, are severe due to the shortage of foreign exchange reserves, and Cuba has been unable to meet its debt service obligations.

The severity of the crisis prompted the Cuban government to finally act on potentially significant economic reforms it previously promised, but which were delayed due to disagreements within the leadership. Perhaps most significantly, the government has indicated that it will soon eliminate the dual currency and exchange rate system—which includes Cuban pesos for domestic use and convertible pesos that are roughly pegged to the dollar. The Cuban pesos have a 25:1 exchange rate with the convertible peso in the retail sector, and 1:1 rate between enterprises—a distortion of value that stimulates imports while discouraging exports and aggravating the country’s foreign exchange crisis.

In July, the government announced that private and cooperative businesses would be allowed to hold convertible foreign currency bank accounts and import and export directly, rather than having to go through government agencies. To prioritize food security, the government reduced price and administrative controls on private and cooperative farms. To generate and capture more remittances, it lifted the 10 percent tax on U.S. dollars entering the country and opened dozens of stores that accept payment in convertible currency.

Faithfully executed, these reforms could boost productivity significantly over the next year or two, but shorter-term relief for Cuba will depend on circumstances beyond its control: the speed at which the pandemic subsides, allowing the tourist sector to reopen; and the policies of the incoming U.S. president. Cubans celebrated openly when Joe Biden won this month’s election, and the government has signaled its willingness to improve relations. During the election campaign, Biden promised to reverse Trump’s sanctions that disrupted family ties and imposed economic hardship on the Cuban people, which could mean a reopening of travel and elimination of Trump’s restrictions on remittances. That would measurably improve the standard of living for the Cuban people, but sustainable development for the long run depends on Cuba completing the reforms necessary to build a productive economy.

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JOE BIDEN WILL HAVE TO WIN BACK CUBA’S TRUST IF HE WANTS TO REVIVE OBAMA-ERA THAW IN RELATIONS, SAYS EX-U.S. DIPLOMAT

NEWSWEEK,  David Brennan April 16, 2020

This week marked five years since President Barack Obama requested that Congress revoke Cuba’s designation as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” a key step in re-establishing diplomatic relations with the Caribbean nation after decades of antagonism between the Cold War foes.

Obama went on to become the first U.S. president to visit the island since 1928, lift some travel restrictions and reopen the U.S. embassy in Havana, closed since 1961. The then-president hailed the thaw and described his visit as an “extraordinary honor.”

The move faced opposition from both sides of the U.S. political spectrum. Anti-normalization figures pointed to the historic human rights abuses on the part of the island’s revolutionary and totalitarian regime, plus its seizure of private property—including that owned by Americans.

When President Donald Trump came into office, he announced he was “canceling” the deals struck between the Obama administration and Cuba. Though some of the agreements remain in place, Trump oversaw new financial sanctions on regime figures and fresh travel restrictions.

But with the November presidential election looming, another shift in U.S.-Cuba relations could be on the cards. Presumptive Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden was part of the administration that upended the long campaign against Cuba, though in recent months has attacked former rival Sen. Bernie Sanders for praising the regime’s achievements.

Biden was critical of the Cuban regime before the Obama-led detente, supporting existing trade embargoes on the island. But the former vice president dropped his opposition in support of the president, and has since criticized the “outdated” antagonistic ideology towards Cuba and trade and travel restrictions, which he described as forming an “ineffective stumbling block” to relations with other nations in the Americas.

Biden was fiercely critical of Trump’s decision to undo Obama policy, describing the new president’s wider Latin America approach as a “Cold War-era retread and, at worst, at worst, an ineffective mess.”

Biden argued that Trump’s restrictions would throttle Cuban entrepreneurs—undermining their independence from the communist regime—and limit the ability of Cubans in the U.S. to support their families at home.

Asked to comment on Biden’s Cuba stance, a campaign spokesperson pointed Newsweek to an interview with the former vice president published in Americas Quarterly in March.

“As president, I will promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights,” Biden said, lauding Americans “and especially Cuban-Americans” as the “best ambassadors for freedom” on the island.

Jeffrey DeLaurentis served as Obama’s top diplomat in Cuba, and was nominated as ambassador to the island though was never approved by the Republican-controlled Senate. He told Newsweek he believes that any new president would have the backing of “the majority of the American public,” which supports a better relationship with Cuba “despite the differences we may have.”

“The current administration’s decision to roll back the opening just repeats a failed policy from the past,” DeLaurentis believes. “You can’t continue doing the same thing and hope for a different result.”

DeLaurentis argued that better cooperation between the U.S. and Cuba on issues including migration, counter-narcotics and climate change could improve American national security. Any such policies should “help, not hurt, the Cuban people,” he added.

Prominent lawmakers—particularly in Florida where some represent much of the Cuban diaspora that fled Fidel Castro’s revolution—have long believed the price of negotiating is too high. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio—the son of Cuban migrants—is one of the most prominent among Republicans, and according to Politico has more or less masterminded Trump’s Cuba strategy.

After Sanders recently praised some elements of the regime in Cuba and suggested its achievements had the support of many Cubans, Rubio shot back noting that the Castro brothers retained power because dissidents had been “jailed, murdered or exiled.” During his unsuccessful run for president, Rubio suggested Obama’s Cuba policies were “in violation of the law.”

The Cuban diaspora represents an important electoral question for Biden and Trump. A hard line on the regime in Havana could swing some Cuban descendants behind the Republican party in Florida—a vital swing state.

“The Trump administration already has the 2020 elections in mind,” DeLaurentis suggested. “And so clearly the policies are designed to secure maximum popularity with a certain constituency in a key state.” Indeed, Trump made a point of attacking his predecessor’s Cuba strategy in his most recent State of the Union address, claiming to be “standing up for freedom in our hemisphere.”

Cuban-Americans are not a voting monolith, but the scars of the revolution run deep. When Sanders praised the regime, Florida Democrats rushed to condemn his remarks and demand an apology. “Donald Trump wins Florida if Bernie is our nominee,” warned Rep. Javier Fernandez.

The Trump administration maintains that Cuba is a malign power that needs to be contained, not negotiated with. A spokesperson for the president’s re-election campaign told Newsweek that Trump “has held Cuba’s corrupt communist government accountable for its actions, reversing the failed policies of the Obama-Biden administration.”

The spokesperson claimed, “If it were up to Joe Biden, America would revert back to sympathizing with communists and implementing foreign policy that compromises our national security and weakens our standing in [the] world.”

Elsewhere, the Cuban regime is deeply involved in Venezuela, propping up beleaguered President Nicolas Maduro who has been indicted in the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has identified Cuba as a central facilitator of Maduro’s regime.

A senior Pentagon official told Newsweek earlier this month that U.S. intelligence “has evidence that Maduro is trafficking drugs using naval vessels between Venezuela and Cuba,” an allegation denied by the Cuban government.

The Biden campaign spokesperson who spoke to Newsweek declined to comment on questions regarding Cuba’s influence in Venezuela and the allegations of drug smuggling.

DeLaurentis said that Cuba’s role in Venezuela would “certainly be one of the big challenges” for any president who wished to revive relations with Havana. “In this situation, you can’t negotiate with just the people you want to negotiate with, you have to negotiate with the people who are involved,” he said.

But after three years of Trump, there is no guarantee that Cuba would be willing to come back to the table. “You would have to make an effort to win back their trust,” DeLaurentis said. “Although a number of Cuban officials have indicated that they’d certainly be willing to return to the negotiating table.”

The Cuban foreign ministry did not reply to Newsweek‘s request for comment.

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