As the daughter of Cuban refugees, I grew up so enamored with American freedom and what it meant for my community that I joined the CIA as an undercover officer and served my country proudly on three tours, including one to Afghanistan. During that time, I witnessed corrupt leaders destroy democracy around the world in many of the same ways that Fidel Castro had in Cuba, forcing my family to flee. Now Im seeing similar tactics employed by President Donald Trump here at home.
My fellow Cuban Americans must come to grips with the reality that the actions of the current Republican administration bear deep similarities to the Cuban government.
When I watched U.S. agents hustle protesters into unmarked vans in Portland, Oregon, in July, I recalled the frighteningly similar stories my grandparents told me about Cuba after the communist revolution of 1959, when speaking out could get you imprisoned or killed. When news broke in 2018 about family separations at the southern U.S. border, it reminded me of the years my mother spent rehearsing how she might handle Cuban border agents potentially refusing to let her parents accompany her on a Freedom Flight to resettle in the United States.
While its understandable that Cuban immigrants once felt an affinity for the GOP as the party that faced down communism and championed economic advancement, my fellow Cuban Americans must come to grips with the reality that the actions of the current Republican administration bear deep similarities to the Cuban government our families fled from. As the Republican National Convention kicks off its effort to re-elect President Donald Trump on Monday night, its time for Cuban voters to admit that the GOP is no longer their political home.
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This political reckoning is imperative, and urgent, because of the key role Cuban voters play in deciding the fate of the nation. Cubans are one of the largest immigrant groups in the United States, with some one million living in the crucial swing state of Florida. And among Latino voters, they disproportionately support the Republican Party.
The Cuban vote was solidly red in 2016 and 2018, despite the trend of Latino voters being reliably blue. Exit polls from Cuban Americans in Florida indicated that 54 percent supported Trump in his first presidential election, compared with only 35 percent of Latinos nationwide. Floridas Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won twice as many Cuban American votes as did his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum.
This seems perplexing until one dives into Cubas unique history. When the Castro regime took over in 1959, it confiscated wealth and land from thousands of Cubans, now worth roughly $7 billion. As a result, many Cubans who eventually fled to the U.S. now tend to equate the Democratic Party, particularly democratic socialists such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., with the communist ideology that led to their mass dispossession. Cubans also continue to blame Democratic President John F. Kennedy for abandoning the Cuban counterrevolutionaries during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, a failed U.S.-backed attempt to overthrow the Castro regime.
However, this thinking ignores some key points that should spur reflection. It was President Lyndon Johnson, also a Democrat, who passed the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act that granted a special path to permanent residency for Cubans who were admitted into the U.S. and present in the country for at least one year.
More recently, the Republican positions that enamored many Cubans fashioning themselves as defenders of fiscal responsibility and hawkish national security have been discarded by Trump. Instead, Trump, and the Republican Party under him, have threatened enemies with imprisonment, attempted to corrupt elections, egregiously mismanaged economic headwinds and established a cabal of relatives and associates with outsize access to resources, investment opportunities and tax-funded programs meant for citizens of modest means.
Particularly disturbing has been the Trump administrations handling of immigrants. It has handled a flow of migrants at the Mexican border by locking them in cages, incarcerated the most immigrants in U.S. history, and separated children from their parents, many of whom have yet to be reunited.
Cuban Americans should be under no illusion that they are different, either because of their politics or the oppression they fled from during the Cold War. Trump has greatly increased their removal: During his first year in office, he deported 160 Cubans, a 150 percent increase from the previous year, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained over 1,600 undocumented Cubans. By 2018, that number had grown to over 8,500. In January, a Cuban man died in ICE custody, the sixth such death since October.
While many Hispanic and Latino voters in the United States support Democratic initiatives such as raising the minimum wage, enforcing stricter gun reform laws and providing universal health care, Cubans have often continued to oppose these measures out of fear that too much government involvement in their lives would result in another Castro-like regime. But Cuban Americans need to realize that Trumps purported support for our community is far outweighed by his actions.
Indeed, if Cuban allegiance to Republicans has been based on feeling welcomed and favored in this country of freedom, that loyalty is clearly no longer merited. Re-electing Trump would only embolden his mandate to enact even more draconian abuses of power, and his similarities with Latin American caudillos such as Castro are only likely to increase.
If Cuban allegiance to Republicans has been based on feeling welcomed and favored in this country of freedom, that loyalty is clearly no longer merited.
The recent news out of Portland has revealed what Trump will do to Americans he deems problematic. Cubans chose to come to the U.S. for freedom and opportunity, but as this weeks Republican convention is sure to highlight, the Republican Party is itself in a fight for its future; split between those offering unwavering support for Trumps policies, no matter how outrageous, and those committed to a conservative platform based on the principles of democracy.
Although the Cuban American community may remain conservative, it should recognize that its values do not align with the current administrations rhetoric and actions. In November, Cubans should once again choose freedom and opportunity, by voting for Joe Biden.
A.J. Fuentes Twombly is a former CIA officer and a fellow at the Truman National Security Project.
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