TAMPA — When dozens of Cuban dissidents gathered in downtown Tampa, a Miami YouTube influencer who organized the protest decried communism and the Castro regime.
But Eliécer Ávila also rallied the crowd about a matter closer to home.
“You have to vote Republican!” Ávila shouted.
Latinos are not a monolithic voting bloc. But when it comes to the Cuban-American vote, many of them continue to lean toward the Republican party — and one candidate in particular: Donald Trump.
Nationwide, 58% of registered Cuban voters say they’re Republicans. In Florida, they have helped distinguish the state’s Latino vote from that of the nation overall. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 54% of Florida Cubans voted for Trump in 2016, compared with 35% of the state’s Latino voters overall.
But during the 2022 midterm election, conservative candidates received the support of most Hispanics voters. DeSantis won his reelection bid by a margin of nearly 20 points. DeSantis has been a vocal critic of President Joe Biden, and he has supported legislation that limits immigration and how public schools can educate students about issues such as gender identity, race, and sexual orientation.
A group of Cubans spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about why they favor Trump — and not DeSantis — as the Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential race. They support Trump because of his hardline stance against Cuba during his four years in office. He imposed travel restrictions to the country and designated it as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Here’s what else they had to say.
Ceruelo, a 53-year-old Cuban, arrived in Tampa from Havana a decade ago to escape the economic strife in her homeland. As a mother of two grown kids, she remembers what it was like to live in a country where the store shelves were often empty and long lines formed for even the most basic goods.
She said they were always struggling to make ends meet, even though she studied economics and had a permanent job at a Cuban bank in central Havana.
When she came to the U.S. with her children through a family petition, Ceruelo never imagined that the economy could be a problem.
“Now we’re talking about inflation and a housing crisis,” she said.
That’s why Ceruelo believes the nation needs Trump.
“Trump is my candidate because I don’t see him as a politician, but as a businessman who builds relationships,” said Ceruelo, a pharmacy technician in Tampa who worships at a local Evangelical Pentecostal church.
Trump’s immigration policies were more effective than those of DeSantis, she said. When Trump was president, he imposed harsh restrictions on programs such as Temporary Protected Status, lengthened citizenship tests, and capped public assistance for many immigrants. She believes that Trump is a better politician and that his policies were more organized.
Get insights into Florida politics
Subscribe to our free Buzz newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“DeSantis’ approach is different because he’s a political hunter who doesn’t give people an opportunity,” said Ceruelo. “If DeSantis becomes president with that mentality, it would be a disaster. I wouldn’t want DeSantis as president.”
In 1973, Rafael Vila was a political prisoner for 14 months in Cuba’s dreaded Boniato prison, 460 miles from Havana. His crime? Organizing protests against the Cuban regime, the economy and its expropriation campaign.
Vila, 70, who left Cuba 44 years ago, believes Democrats are too liberal because of their Cuban policy, particularly during the last decade. Obama-era initiatives aimed to normalize relations with Cuba. And the Biden administration wants to remove limits on family remittances to relatives on the island.
Vila wants the Cuban government to be held accountable for its human rights violations and attacks against democracy. He believes Trump is the right person to address these issues.
“It’s time to avoid any chance of being in the middle of a socialist government,” said Vila, a retired maintenance technician. He thinks that Trump might do a better job than DeSantis as president because he has more experience.
He also credits the former president with creating more jobs and improving the economy during his presidency.
“If DeSantis decides to run for president, he won’t do well. Trump will win.”
Salazar came to the United States from Cuba 12 years ago through the petition of an older brother, who had settled in New York in the 1980s. Salazar was a handyman in Havana. He said he was criticized for his resistance to government authority and his refusal to join the so-called Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.
Salazar, 51, recently protested in Tampa for his friends and relatives in Cuba who cannot do so without prosecution. And like many voters, he prefers Trump.
“He’s the man who did his job very well in the U.S. and against the Cuban regime,” said Salazar, who works cleaning apartments and offices in Tampa. “DeSantis is not a bad politician but Trump is better.”
He praised DeSantis for keeping schools and businesses open during the pandemic.
Rigoberto Rodríguez left Cuba seven years ago in search of political and economic freedom. He reached the United States by traveling through Ecuador and finally to U.S. in 2015.
Rodríguez, 37, said DeSantis can wait until 2028 because Trump has to be president.
“Let’s be clear: DeSantis is a good governor, and he might be a good president, but not right now. In 2024, it has to be Trump,” said Rodríguez, who works as a maintenance worker in a downtown Tampa hotel.
Once a month, Rodríguez manages to send $100 to his mother in Havana. He said conditions on the island are difficult and Cubans are tired of living under an inhumane political system.
“Trump was the only one who imposed sanctions against the Cuban government, and the Cuban government does not represent the people,” said Rodríguez. “So, to me it’s very simple.”
Regarding immigration issues and hardline policies under Trump, Rodríguez said the U.S. must control borders with zero tolerance.
“There is nothing wrong with doing that,” Rodríguez said. “And I’m talking about immigrants of any origin, including Cubans because the Cuban crisis has been created by the Cuban government.”