Cubans Push for Kerry Win in Florida


HAVANA, Oct. 19, 2004 -- -- A multitude of unlikely volunteers is working the phones for Sen. John Kerry in the swing state of Florida. His campaign is unaware of the support, as the volunteers do not live in the United States, but in Communist-run Cuba.

Cubans, angered by a recent Bush administration measure restricting visits home by Cuban-Americans, say they are lobbying relatives hard to vote against the president just two weeks before Election Day. Early voting has already begun in Florida.

"My family in Miami never votes. They are not interested. I told them they had to get rid of Bush, and they all promised to go vote against him," housewife Amilia said, as she leaned over her third-floor balcony in a dilapidated Havana housing project. Amilia, like the other Cubans interviewed, did not want her last name used.

Cubans have not voted for a president since before Fidel Castro swept into power in a 1959 revolution, replacing dictator Fulgencio Batista. Nevertheless, they want their relatives to take full advantage of the opportunity, despite government propaganda labeling U.S. elections a sham.

"I told my brother in Miami you have to be crazy to vote for Bush and he said he would vote for the other guy this time," Roberto, a Santiago de Cuba hotel worker, said in a telephone interview. "Who knows, maybe his vote will make a difference."

The official Cuban government position is that it makes little difference if Bush or Kerry sits in the White House.

"Both candidates support the U.S. blockade of our country, it will be more of the same whomever wins," National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said last week.

But just about everyone on this Caribbean island has a mother, father, brother, sister, uncle, aunt or cousin in the United States and most say they disagree with Alarcon.

The phone traffic is always thick between Cuba's 11.2 million residents and the 800,000 Cuban-Americans who have sought a better life in Florida, and never more than now as the election draws near, a local telephone operator said.

Family affairs and the U.S. election dominate the conversations, the Cubans say.

"My father is a Democrat and will vote for Kerry. I told him to talk to his friends so Bush doesn't win. Why do I have to see my father every three years when I could see him every year?" Miguel, a university student whose father lives in Tampa, said.

Bush tightened existing travel restrictions to Cuba in May. The most controversial regulation limited trips home by Cuban-Americans to once every three years, and only to see immediate family for no more than two weeks.

The move angered many Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits. Kerry, while promising to be tough on Castro, quickly said the measure trampled on family values and he would rescind it if elected. The Democrats then set up a campaign office in the heart of Miami's Little Havana district as part of their effort to chip away at the traditional Republican territory.

Bush won 82 percent of the 450,000 Cuban American votes cast when he took Florida in 2000, and thus the presidency, after a bitter fight over ballots.

This year, Florida and its 27 electoral votes are some of the most hotly fought over in a national contest that remains too close to call.

Bush is expected to again garner a majority of Cuban-American votes on Nov. 2, but Democrats hope to cut into his margin and win the state. They point out that a 10 percent increase in Cuban-American votes would translate into 45,000 for their candidate and 45,000 less for the president.

Retired sugar worker Antonio Perez, 80, says that he cannot wait three years to see family residing in Florida.

"We have talked it over. My family represents five votes and they will all go to Kerry," he said.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events