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Public Opinion of Miami Cuban-American Community and Obama’s Policy Change toward Cuba : Influence of Public Opinion on Elites’ Foreign Policy-Making

Kim, Young Hee (Sogang Graduate School of International Studies)

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The United States spent nearly half a century striving to unseat Castro regime and bring democratic reform to Cuba through economic sanctions and travel restrictions. However, on January 14th in 2011, White House announced that President Obama ordered Secretaries of State, Treasury and Homeland Secu...
The United States spent nearly half a century striving to unseat Castro regime and bring democratic reform to Cuba through economic sanctions and travel restrictions. However, on January 14th in 2011, White House announced that President Obama ordered Secretaries of State, Treasury and Homeland Security to ease U.S. Cuba policies that govern: 1) purposeful travel; 2) non-family remittances and 3) U.S airports supporting licensed charter flights to and from Cuba. Although the U.S.’s trade embargo with Cuba remains intact, President Obama’s recent relaxing of the U.S. approach toward Cuba was a big leap from the Bush administration’s tightened enforcement of the embargo and increased travel restriction policy. It also dropped the antagonistic rhetoric that has dominated U.S Cuba policy since the Cold War. This paper posits that the force behind Obama administration’s policy change must have been the transformed views of Miami Cuban-American community toward Cuba. Viewing the moderation of Cuban-Americans’ attitudes as an opportunity, by strategically taking positions and by crafting the preferences of a majority of the Cuban-Americans into campaign pledges, Obama must have successfully secured support from Miami Cubans in the 2008 election and 2012 respectively. After the winning of election, as the fulfillment of his campaign pledges, President Obama must have arrived at the decision of easing restrictions on family travel and on remittances to family members in Cuba. The findings reveal that politicians, in order to keep their government posts, have tailored their political platforms or campaign pledges in accordance with the Cuban-Americans’ changing preferences. With the transformed tendency of a majority in Miami-Dade tilting in favor a change, alleviating the travel restriction has become an important aspect in crafting the current election races. The scholars of the Elite-centric Model maintain that authorities merely base their foreign policy decision on the national interest rather than on the preferences of the public. However, it disesteemed the electoral connection between the public and politicians which allows public to weigh in the foreign policy decision-making process and exert influence over it. That is, as political elites are politically accountable to their electoral constituents, rational politicians seek to win an advantage at the polls by presenting and enacting policies favored by the public. Public’s influence is not only confined to elites’ foreign policy decision-making. It also circumscribes politician’s legislative activity on domestic issues. The vulnerability of the policy position of the leader to public opinion has been evidenced in Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s politicized position shift. His departure from the hardline to the moderate on illegal immigration issue has been designed for appealing to the growing Hispanic voters. Thereby this paper demonstrates that influence on foreign as well as domestic policy decision-making flows from the bottom-up, not from top-down.