How did the US lose Cuba

Latinos in the US : Why Cubans in exile turn away from Trump

Pedro Bello's face is everywhere. If you enter "Cuba Tobacco Cigar Co.", the showroom of the traditional company in Miami's Little Havana district, you can see him in pictures on the wall studying a large tobacco leaf or sharing a Havana with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He looks at you straight from the noble cigar boxes - with a white shirt and hat and of course a cigar in his hand. On many days, the 89-year-old also laughs at the visitors personally, then he sits on the brown leather sofa to the left of the entrance and signs one box after the other, with a cigar in the silver ashtray on the little table next to him. Although the head of the family of the Bello clan has lived in the United States for decades, he does not speak English.

In Miami, and especially here, on Calle Ocho not far east of the center, which is officially called SW 8th Street, Pedro Bello is not alone in this, in Little Havana people speak better Spanish, the quarter is, so to speak, the capital of around two million Cubans in exile who now live in the United States. And Miami, the unofficial capital of Latin America.

Thirteen percent of the residents of Miami-Dade County still fall into the “non-Hispanic whites” census category. Around 70 percent of the 2.8 million inhabitants have Latin American roots. A million of them are Cuban, 600,000 of whom can vote in the US. Few know that better than US President Donald Trump, who has just moved his main residence from New York to Florida.

The state will play a major role in the presidential election in pretty much exactly a year from now. He is one of the so-called "Battleground States". Many say that in order to remain president, Trump has to win Florida again. "The road to victory leads through Florida," said Joe Gruters, chairman of the local Republican Party, of the Tampa Bay Times in May. No Republican has been president in 95 years without bringing Florida.

100,000 Cuban votes

What role do the Cubans in exile play in this, who, unlike most other “Latinos” in the USA, are considered staunch Republicans and whom Trump claims to have won the election in Florida in 2016?

Still a big one, says Guillermo Grenier. The sociologist at Florida International University, himself born in Cuba, is sitting at a table in front of the Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center on Calle Ocho on a Saturday lunchtime. Bar, restaurant, museum, art center - this is where people meet during the day for a Cuban coffee and in the evening for the supposedly best mojitos in town. Salsa music can be heard from the tape outside of the restaurant, and a live band is about to play.

"Donald Trump said he only needed 100,000 Cuban votes to win Florida again," says Grenier.

Where elections are so narrowly won and lost, smaller groups also play a major role. “The Cubans in exile know this and use it to their advantage,” says Grenier. “It gives them a disproportionately great importance.” The sociologist has been researching the political attitudes of Cuban Americans for many years. More than half of them in the greater Miami area are registered as Republicans, the rest is split between Democrats and a growing number who are registered as "independent" and who make new choices from election to election.

Make more of life

In his most recent study, Grenier noted that something is changing - slowly. Since April 1961, when the Democratic President John F. Kennedy abandoned Cuban exiles in their attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro - Kennedy broke off the Bay of Pigs invasion against the opposition of the CIA - that they vote with a large majority Republican , many of the younger generation don't see it that way anymore. “There is a generation gap,” says Grenier. The differences are particularly large between the old Cubans, who fled in the first two decades after Castro came to power and still do not want any contact with their old homeland, and younger ones, who are less ideological and travel to Cuba every now and then.

Like Marilou Rodriguez. The 26-year-old came to the United States from Havana four years ago. For her it was less the escape from an oppressive regime than the desire to make more of her life. “I left because I grew up,” says Rodriguez. "Cuba is a nice place to grow up, but there are no prospects for us." She secured a scholarship at the University of New York to become a screenwriter. Today she works at the bar of the La Flora hotel in Miami Beach, as well as a DJ - and in her free time she writes plays. “I'm always busy,” she says before taking the next order.

Difficult to calculate

Like most migrants from Cuba, Rodriguez lived in Little Havana for a while and then moved on. “Too many Cubans don't even live there anymore.” She describes herself as a political person, but in Cuba there was no point in going to the polls. That is why she is not particularly interested in politics here either, and has not yet dealt with the approaching election campaign. Marilou Rodriguez can choose: She now has a residence permit that Cubans receive if they live in the USA for at least one year and one day. After five years they can get citizenship.

For the Democrats, young Cuban Americans like Marilou Rodriguez are difficult to calculate. Do you even vote or are you too busy with your new life? And if so, who do you choose?

The Republicans have it easier. In Maximo Gomez Park, also known as "Domino Park" on Calle Ocho, if one were to ask the Cubans who are immersed in their game about their voting intentions, the result would be unequivocal. "You will hardly find anyone here to vote for the Democrats," says tour guide Danny Vaisman, who leads dozens of tourists through Calle Ocho every day. No wonder: anyone who wants to play here has to be at least 55 years old. This is announced by a sign next to the kiosk where players can get their dominoes. “The old always vote,” says sociologist Grenier. Republicans are aware of this. “On election days, they go to the old people's homes around here to pick up the old people and bring them to the polls. The Democrats are stupid not to do that. "

"We had to start all over again"

The Bellos show how loyal the Republican voters are. The family, who run their cigar business in the fifth generation, sticks together. Pedro Bello's grandfather founded the company in Cuba, his son Peter Bello is now responsible for tobacco growing, and his eldest son is responsible for the shops. “Of course we're all Republicans,” says the 62-year-old. His family was directly affected by the coup against the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. The new socialist state established by the Castro brothers expropriated not only US companies and citizens, but wealthy Cubans as well. Many ended up in jail. Pedro Bello met him in 1959, he was a prisoner of the regime for 20 years. His family fled to America during that time, and his father came later.

“We had to start all over again, it was tough,” says Peter Bello. He will never forget that the USA accepted them, let him study and live freely. “I love this country, I am a hundred percent American.” And yet: Peter Bello has tattooed the word “Cuba” on his left upper arm.

Peter Bello vigorously defends Trump's policies, even when he says the rhetoric is not always right. “He should shut up more often.” But the president got the economy going, cut taxes, made sure that America was respected again in the world, and was finally doing something against China and illegal immigration.

He actually likes everything about Trump

It's very simple for Peter Bello. “Trump secures the border” - with Mexico - “and thus forces the migrants to take the legal route. It's only fair, we had to earn it too! ”He himself worked in two jobs at the same time to finance his college.

Trump, who is not a politician at all, always said what he was doing. "If they let him work, he would be able to achieve so much more," he says, referring to attempts by the Democrats to prove wrongdoing to the president. He finds it scandalous that the opposition wants to initiate impeachment proceedings. But if his wife or children wanted to choose differently, he emphasizes, they could of course. “I just want you to be happy. And free. "

Fidel Asis Lopez has to deal with politically dissenting family members. The 60-year-old owner of the clothing brand “The Havana Collection” on Calle Ocho is still one of those who cannot forgive the US Democrats for leaving the Cubans in exile alone in 1961. Lopez came to America in 1960 when he was one year old, he never went back. “I won't do that while this government is in power.” His uncle was imprisoned for 32 years. He actually likes everything about Trump. His wife Ileana and his son see it differently. They have become Democrats, Ileana Lopez rejects Trump mainly because of his behavior. Only when her husband says that no one should come into the country who doesn't know anyone here to support him, Ileana Lopez nods vigorously.

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