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Normally conservative Cuban Americans divided over Trump

MIAMI (AFP) – 

For decades, older Cubans have loved to talk politics as they played dominoes and slapped tiles down on the board. And they were almost uniformly Republican.

But in this election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, they are torn.

The Republican Trump now talks a good game on opposing the communist regime in Havana, and this sits well with older Miami Cubans.

However, his tough and often nasty comments about immigrants, Mexicans and other Latinos, do not.

“Donald Trump says a lot of stupid things,” said Carlos Padron, 61.

“He is a racist and as a Latino I do not agree with him because he is attacking my people,” Padron said as he sat in a Little Havana park that is a magnet for domino players.

But Padron points to the other 50-odd players at the park and says, “none of them will admit it, but most of those who are here will vote for him.”

Hispanics in America are mostly Democrats, but Cuban Americans have traditionally been largely conservative.

Older generations fled from the island in the years or decades after Fidel Castro took power, and they despise him and his younger brother Raul, who is now in power.

But this tendency has changed in recent years as more younger Cubans, less bent on opposing the Castros and more open to good US-Cuban ties, have come to Miami.

So Trump’s strategy in his intense campaign in Florida — a battleground state that he needs to win to take the presidency — has been to woo the older Cuban exiles who emigrated in the 1960s and 70s.

Cubans make up 31 percent of the Hispanic vote in Florida and 18 percent of the total electorate, according to the Pew Research Center. Polls show Trump and Clinton neck and neck in Florida.

Trump made a play for older Cuban-Americans a month ago when he moved away from his vague support for detente in US-Cuban relations.

Now, Trump fiercely opposes the idea of the United States lifting the embargo it imposed on Cuba after Fidel Castro came to power. The embargo is still in place even though the two countries restored diplomatic relations in 2015, ending 50 years of enmity.

Older Cubans love that kind of tough stance against Havana.

On Wednesday, Trump made another appeal for their support.

“We will cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal, made by executive order, if we do not get the deal we want and the deal that people living in Cuba and here deserve, including protecting religious and political freedom,” Trump told a Miami rally, alluding to the restoration of ties.

– ‘Throw out the criminals’ –

But does it make sense to court these older Cubans when the broader Cuban American community prefers better relations between the two former enemies?

A poll released last month by Florida International University found that 63 percent of Cuban Americans in Miami are against the embargo, initially aimed at crippling and overthrowing the Castro regime.

Jorge Duany, director of the university’s Cuban Research Institute, said Trump is operating under the premise that many younger Cubans, or ones that arrived more recently, cannot vote in American elections.

“Trump is betting that the strongest vote within the community is the conservative vote, the Republican vote and the vote of people over age 65,” Duany said. “On the other hand, many of the young and those who arrived recently are not US citizens.”

But Clinton, who is more popular among young people and minorities, has been firm in her support of warmer ties with Cuba.

This did not exact too much of a political cost because of the emerging ideological change among Miami’s Cuban Americans, as pro-detente sentiment comes to dominate.

Clinton has another ace up her sleeve: older Cubans may like Trump’s tough talk on the Castros, but his anti-immigrant rhetoric is hard for them to stomach.

Clinton says she is in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, and says she will maintain a 1966 law that gives special treatment to Cuban migrants.

Early in his campaign Trump criticized that law, but as he often does, he later changed his position. But he has been consistently dogged on fighting illegal immigration.

And this has sowed unprecedented division among conservative Cuban Americans.

“The Trump campaign that began in Miami by fighting and criticizing Mexican migrants had an effect on the Cuban community,” said Duany.

“Many Cubans took this personally, and since then there has been resistance to supporting his campaign.”

But many Cubans, because they have special migratory privileges, do not identify with the anti-Trump movement that has galvanized other Hispanic Americans.

“I totally agree with securing the borders,” said Denise Galvez, a Cuban American who founded Latinas for Trump. “To keep good immigrants who want to work, first you have to throw out the criminals.”

© 2016 AFP