Hispanics bolster political muscle
By Sandra Hernandez
While Republicans and Democrats battled Wednesday over who won the support of Florida's Latino voters, one issue was clear: Cuban Americans are no longer the largest Hispanic voting bloc in the state.
Non-Cuban Hispanic voters, mostly Puerto Ricans and Colombians, grew from 40 percent in 2000 to an estimated 50 percent in this election, according to a survey conducted on Nov. 2 by the William C. Velasquez Institute, or WCVI, a Texas-based Hispanic think tank.
Once the dominant Latino group, Cuban Americans now account for about 50 percent of Florida's estimated 900,000 registered Hispanic voters. Four years ago, they accounted for about 60 percent of that bloc, according to the survey of 1,147 Hispanics across the state. It has a 2 percent margin of error.
"I don't think this is a zero sum game where Cubans lose but more about an increase in overall Hispanic influence here," said Dario Moreno, director of the Metropolitan Center, a political research institute at Florida International University.
The change is a dramatic shift in the state's Hispanic political landscape, which historically has been dominated by Cuban-American issues such as the U.S. embargo toward the island nation and its leader, President Fidel Castro.
Analysts viewed the change as a reflection of the influx of Latin Americans and Puerto Ricans, who will likely consider a broader range of election issues, ranging from U.S. policy toward Latin America to education or immigration.
"Foreign policy was a big issue for me," said Francisco González, a Venezuelan-American and first time voter who supported Sen. John Kerry. "I think there are many other people like myself who are voting and this simply shows the non-Cuban Hispanic community is maturing."
Margarita Valdemar, a Colombian-American who cast her ballot for President Bush, said U.S. support for Colombia's president helped her decide to vote for Bush. "He is the man who will help Colombia and he is interested in helping President Alvaro Uribe."
For some, the loss of Cuban domination marked an end to candidates limiting their campaign stops to Little Havana. "The days of the fixation with the island for political candidates are over. We will see domestic issues such as health care and education coming to the forefront, and that is more in line with what Hispanics in the rest of the country care about," said Antonio González, president of WCVI.
Political candidates will have to acquire a greater repertoire of issues of importance to Latinos to win their votes.
"There is no question this will change the types of issues that come up," said Larry González of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, a Washington, D.C.-based group that represents over 6,000 Hispanic elected officials. "Candidates will start looking beyond this broad Hispanic label and focus on specific issues. Expect to see them talking about Venezuelan foreign policy or immigration issues or Puerto Rico's status as a commonwealth."
That is welcome news to activists who complain their communities have long been ignored.
"For a long time politicians have come to South Florida and worn a guyabera and smoked a cigar and that was it," said Raul Duany, an activist who helped establish PROFESA, an association of Puerto Rican professionals in Florida. "Maybe these new numbers will get them into the harder issues. Maybe they will stop taking Latinos for granted and other voices will be heard."
Sandra Hernandez can be reached at email@example.com or 954 385 7923.
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