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Sun Nov 11, 2012, 07:20 PM

Obama vote surges among Miami Cubans, but what does election mean for Cuba?

** more commentary on this unexpected change, I posted earlier with the stats, available at the Herald that shows Calle Ocho/Little Havana voted very firmly for Obama, along with much of Hiaheah a Cuban dominated part of Miami. Things must be grim at Cafe Versailles

MEXICO CITY — President Obama won a historic share of Cuban American ballots in Florida this week, challenging the Republican Party’s lock on a voting bloc that for decades has defined U.S. policy toward Cuba and the Castro brothers.

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“The number of Cuban Americans going for Obama were shocking to us, and we have been studying this section of electorate for more than 30 years,” said pollster Fernand Amandi in Miami.

“For Republicans, this must be very sobering, because in a quick, dramatic shift, your most reliable base of Hispanics in the GOP are suddenly not there,” said Amandi, managing partner of the survey group Bendixen & Amandi International.

Both advocates for more engagement and the hard-liners opposed to such measures agree that forward movement is difficult as long as Havana resists overtures to free Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor imprisoned in Cuba as an agent of subversion and sentenced to 15 years for bringing satellite communications equipment to the country.

“But for the first time in years, maybe there is some chance for a change in policy,” said Wayne Smith, a former diplomat who served as chief of mission at the U.S. Interest Section, the virtual U.S. embassy in Havana, during the Carter administration.

“There are now many more new young Cuban Americans who support a more sensible approach to Cuba,” Smith said.

Exit polls showed that among Cuban Americans born in the United States, more than 60 percent voted for Obama.

Phil Peters, a Cuba analyst at the libertarian Lexington Institute, called the GOP slide in Miami “the hard-liner’s last hurrah,” and asked in his blog, “Who would have imagined that President Obama could liberalize Cuba policies and increase his Miami-Dade margin by four points?”

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