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Majority of Americans support normalizing relations with Cuba, poll finds



By David Adams

(Reuters) - A strong majority of Americans - and an even greater percentage of Floridians - support normalizing relations with Cuba, according to a poll released on Tuesday by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank.

In an apparent boost to efforts to end the half-century-old economic embargo against Cuba, the poll found that 56 percent of respondents nationally favored changing U.S. Cuba policy, a number that rose to 63 percent when just counting Florida residents.

Supporters of the embargo said the poll was politically biased, questioned its methodology and said it was unlikely to have any impact in Washington.

The poll comes on the back of a series of surprise political announcements in recent days that could challenge longstanding U.S. policy towards the communist-run island.

On Friday, Florida's former Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who is running for the office again in November - this time as a Democrat - said in a TV interview that he supports lifting the embargo.

Also last week, Alfonso Fanjul, a wealthy Cuban American sugar baron in Florida and a major political donor, spoke publicly for the first time about trips he has made to the island in an interview with the Washington Post, and his interest one day in investing there.

The poll, conducted by a Republican and a Democratic pollster, found that only 35 percent of Americans, and 30 percent of Floridians, opposed improving ties with Cuba.

"Given the results of the survey, it is clearly time to take another look at U.S.-Cuba policy. There has been a surge in thinking about whether it's working," said Jason Marczak, deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

The results in Florida show conventional wisdom about U.S. policy towards Cuba may need to be reconsidered.

Political commentators often note that U.S. presidential candidates support a hard line on Cuba out of fear of losing the swing state of Florida.

"We may have crossed the Rubicon with this poll," said U.S. Senator, Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona and longtime opponent of the embargo.

"This tells us that Floridians by a greater percentage than the rest of the country want to see changes to the policy, so there's really no reason not to move ahead now politically," he added.

POLITICAL AGENDA

Supporters of the embargo accused the Atlantic Council of having a political agenda, as well as poor methodology.

"The entire release is biased and agenda-driven," Mauricio Claver-Carone, head of the largest Cuban exile lobby group in Washington, said in reference to the Atlantic Council's announcement of the survey.

"They didn't ask if they were voters. In other words, it's not a poll of 'likely voters' or 'registered voters'."

Claver-Carone, director of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC, said proponents of ending the embargo lacked the votes in Congress, or the financial backing to effectively lobby to change the law.

"The fact remains every single Cuban-American elected official, in any position, in Miami-Dade County supports the embargo. So the facts speak for themselves," he added.

Officials from both countries have told Reuters that U.S.-Cuban relations have taken on a more pragmatic tone in recent months, with cooperation on drug interdiction, oil-spill mitigation and immigration.

President Barack Obama told a Miami fundraiser in November "we have to continue to update our policies" on Cuba, but he has withheld using his executive power since last easing rules on travel to Cuba and the flow of remittances in 2011.

Obama cannot lift the economic embargo without the support of Congress, where there is serious opposition from both parties.

The poll showed some ambivalence among those surveyed when they were reminded of the state of human rights in Cuba, where dissent and freedom of speech are inhibited.

When told that changing U.S. policy would send a message to Iran or North Korea that they can act against American interests, 51 percent found it very or somewhat convincing.

The poll - conducted over the phone in English and Spanish from January 7 to January 22 - surveyed 1,024 randomly selected U.S. adults age 18 and older, with disproportionate numbers of Florida residents and Latinos, the council said.

It had a nationwide margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent, the council said. In Florida the margin of error was plus or minus 4.0 percent.

The Atlantic Council bills itself as a non-partisan research institution that promotes "constructive U.S. leadership and engagement in international affairs." Chief Executive Frederick Kempe is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and editor, and the council's honorary directors include recent secretaries of state and national security advisers.

Its findings provided a timely boost to Crist, who said in an TV interview on Friday that he doesn't think the embargo has worked.

"If we want to bring democracy to Cuba, we need to encourage American values and investment there," he said later in a statement.

Crist, who currently leads in early polling, is the first candidate for governor from either major party to endorse lifting the embargo, a position that has long been considered politically risky in Florida due to Miami's large Cuban American population.

His Cuba comments were pounced upon by Florida's Republican Governor Rick Scott who insisted on that Floridians still support the embargo, saying it "stands for the Cuban people's right to be free."

(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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Liz February 11 2014 at 6:12 PM

It is past time to normalize relations. The only people our actions hurt were the very people we claimed to want to help. We've had closer relations with countries run by much worse leaders. This was stupid from the start. It is past time to stop listening to the minority of Cuban Americans and ex-pat Cubans who have pushed this position for so many decades. The younger, third/fourth/fifth generations don't care.

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JERRY February 11 2014 at 2:52 PM

their appears to be a lot of concern over Cuba making resstitution to the U.S.A. ,yet no mention or concern over the millions Mexico owes the U.S. We need to concentrate on paying off China for the Billions we owe them nd pay attention to our own inabilities to pay our bills and cut the wasteful spending. Cuba doesn't waste it's assets,they have little to none. Cuba isn't any where near our greatest threat,try looking toward the middle East

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MBC February 11 2014 at 5:14 PM

Funny, I had thought that all the Cubans were already living in Florida

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2 replies
ursini55 MBC February 11 2014 at 5:21 PM

or Brooklyn

Flag Reply +3 rate up
venturamickey MBC February 11 2014 at 5:25 PM

partly correct all the good ones left for florida years ago

Flag Reply +1 rate up
vuldown2 February 11 2014 at 5:11 PM

as a country, i culd care less about cuba... but it's way overtime to end this embargo nonsense....

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1 reply
xessexcva9 vuldown2 February 11 2014 at 6:01 PM

As long as they pay cash, and purchase in equal or greater amount than we buy from them, otherwise it do us NO GOOD.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Chris February 11 2014 at 5:09 PM

To be brutally honest, I don't think most people in the U.S. are any more concerned about Cuba than they are with Haiti, and we all know how much we agonize over Haiti.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
MaryLou February 11 2014 at 5:04 PM

I hear it is beautiful and the people are warm and friendly.

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1 reply
Paul MaryLou February 11 2014 at 6:08 PM

Very true and they have good medical doctors.

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fvbrendag February 11 2014 at 2:57 PM

JFK was in favor of restricted trade and travel to Cuba because of how their government treated their people. Since Obama has a closer vision with Castro of the government's role in our lives, I understand why he wants to build relations.

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Tom February 11 2014 at 5:04 PM

Just because 55% of Americans want something mean nothing to Congress unless the arms makers agree.

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1 reply
prosymom Tom February 11 2014 at 5:13 PM

I think this has been in place so long it has become a habit and is just as hard to break as other habits.

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handsome devil ! February 11 2014 at 5:02 PM

about time!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
spdy65 February 11 2014 at 3:01 PM

" A strong majority of Americans - and an even greater percentage of Floridians" - I would be interested in the breakdown of the Floridians responding to this "survey." First and foremost, are the Floridians all LEGAL citizens of the U.S. and are they Caucasian or mostly Cuban in heritage? The people who put out these surveys always fail to print the whole truth and only tell us what they want us to hear.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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