We Americans like to think of ourselves as pragmatic problem solvers. But when it comes to the last fifty-five years of policy toward Cuba, we still worship false idols that preach the Eisenhower and Kennedy-era mythology that economic (and sometimes military) warfare will bring regime change. But not for long.
New data this week shows that American and Florida public opinion favor substantial change in Washington's Cuba policy. According to bipartisan poll 56 percent of Americans support normalizing relations with Cuba. Support is strongest among Democrats and Independents, but, notably, 52 percent of Republicans also favor normalization.
Perhaps the biggest news is that Florida, home to the country's largest Cuban-American population, leads the nation by 7 percentage points in supporting normalized relations: 62 percent of Latinos and 63 percent state-wide favor normalizing relations. And 67 percent of Florida adults and 66 percent of Latinos favor eliminating the ban on travel to Cuba for all Americans, a right only Cuban-Americans are currently permitted.
Oh, and remember the Cold War? That's when Ronald Reagan placed Cuba on the State Department's list of countries sponsoring terrorism. Keeping Cuba on the list is a major symbol of deference to the gods and goddesses of the current status quo, and a major obstacle to commercial and investment ties with the United States. But now, 61 percent of the American people believe that Cuba should come off the list, and in Florida, once a haven for exile planning of terrorist attacks against Cuba, and an early beneficiary of nascent economic ties, the number rises to 67 percent.
The state's politicians get the picture. Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor, switched parties and is now leading in the Democratic party's challenge of Governor Rick Scott for the statehouse. Last week, Crist told a national television audience that it is time to lift the embargo. He focused on the opportunity for jobs and growth for Florida, tying the state's economic future to that of Cuba's. Governor Scott attacked Crist, but he knows Crist's retort that Florida can no longer "bow" to a few idols over Cuba, was spot on.
After all, it was Rick Scott who in the same week in 2012 opposed and then, under pressure, supported a law that would ban companies like Odebrecht from Florida contracts if it also did business in Cuba. A federal court has since found the law unconstitutional. Odebrecht and Brazil will likely benefit from the linked economic future of Florida and Cuba. These public opinion numbers are even better than President Obama's 2012 election results: 51 percent of the national popular vote and 50 percent of Cuban-Americans in Florida. This is domestic politics by the numbers: time for some presidential pragmatism.