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Cuban Americans longtime Republicans drift to Obama
"I'm going to vote for John McCain," she said, faithful to the Cuban community's historic allegiance to the Republican party.

"But there are many Cubans now who favor the Democrats," added Arcuri, 66, who has lived in the United States for more than 20 years. "And they are going with Barack Obama."

No longer is the struggle against communism in Cuba the main issue in Little Havana. Now, increasingly, Cuban Americans worry about the US economy slowing down, their retirement funds evaporating, and jobs being harder to come by.

"For years we struggled with the Republicans against Fidel Castro's regime, but our children and grandchildren think of economic hardship right here," said Arcuri.

"Do you know what happens then? People feel with their heart, but decide with their wallets."

More than one million Cuban-Americans live in Florida, the US state closest to the Caribbean island where Castro overthrew a US-backed regime in January 1959 amid the Cold War and created a communist state that survived the demise of the Soviet Union.

Some 800,000 of those are settled in the Miami area.

In a glass panel at the Versailles cafe in Little Havana, a popular gathering spot for Cuban-American hardliners, a picture of McCain and running mate Sarah Palin reveals the proprietor's sympathies.

Research from the University of Miami suggests that nearly 70 percent of Cuban-Americans identify themselves as Republicans.

But many are questioning US policy towards Cuba -- not least a tightening of the longstanding US embargo under outgoing President George W. Bush that placed strict restrictions on family travel and the sending of remittances to the island.

"That's going to give the Democrats a lot of Cuban votes for the first time in a long time," said Uva de Aragon, director of Cuban studies institute at Florida International University and exiled in the United States since 1971.

"The change that has occurred in the Cuban exile community with the arrival of new generations after 1980, and the economic circumstances that the United States is experiencing, could result in a tsunami vis-a-vis the Cuban vote."

Hernan Santiesteban, 79, a lifelong Republican, intends to vote for Obama.

"We have had 50 years of governments saying they were going to do something for the freedom of Cuba, and yet we have seen nothing," Santiesteban, who was born in Cuba, told AFP.

"I was with Obama at a meeting with other Cubans and I was convinced. He has a willingness to take into account not only Cuban exiles, but also those on the island," he explained. "We all have family there."

For Adolfo Franco, a Cuban-American adviser to McCain in Latin American affairs, the embargo on Cuba "has to be retained because it is the way to pressure the regime."

A national survey by the Zogby organization, released on October 2, noted that 60 percent of Americans believe the White House should change its policy towards Cuba.

The next president of the United States will be the first to assume office without Fidel Castro at the helm in Havana, after Castro ceded authority earlier this year to his brother, Raul.

"The Cuban-Americans who will vote for Obama will not do so as a partisan matter, but because they see in him a change, a more open attitude, and someone can provide real solutions in Cuba," said Bob Melendez, a Democratic senator from New Jersey who is of Cuban heritage.

"Republicans criticize Obama for wanting to sit and drink coffee with Raul Castro," he said. "He has not said that. But he is prepared -- if it serves the interests of the United States -- to meet and confront someone who does not respect human rights."


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