Thursday, February 8, 2007

62% favor ties with Cuba; 40% would vacation there

Posted on Thu, Feb. 08, Miami Herald


U.S. public's feelings mixed on CastroMost Americans dislike Fidel Castro, an AP poll indicated, but they also think diplomatic relations with Cuba should be restored.
Associated Press
WASHINGTON - In nearly equal measure, Americans say they don't like Cuban President Fidel Castro but do want the United States to reestablish regular diplomatic relations with the communist island nation after 46 years of estrangement.

Less than half of those polled think Cuba will become a democracy after the 80-year-old revolutionary leader dies or permanently steps aside. However, 89 percent in The Associated Press-Ipsos poll say they think Cubans will be better off or about the same when Castro is gone.

''It's probably not very likely in the short term,'' Kelly Shanley, 29, of North Haven, Conn., said of prospects for a democratic shift. ``I just hope for the citizens of Cuba that it's something that's realized in the next few decades.''

Castro has appeared to be in failing health for six months and has temporarily shifted power to his younger brother Raúl. Rumors have been rampant about his ailments and how long he can survive.

The poll suggests the Cold War animosity that has defined U.S.-Cuba relations for nearly a half-century may be fading. Although U.S. administrations from left to right have called Castro a dictator and a tyrant and have spent millions trying to undermine him, 27 percent of poll respondents said they hadn't heard enough about Castro to form an opinion.

The poll showed 64 percent of respondents had a very or somewhat unfavorable opinion of Castro, the revolutionary leader who has said he will be a Marxist-Leninist until the day he dies.

''He hasn't done much for his country. The country has not progressed,'' said Shiraz Damji, 61, of Woodland Hills, Calif.

Castro got slightly better reviews from younger people -- 60 percent of those under 35 had an unfavorable view of Castro while 66 percent of older people felt that way -- and younger people were more likely to reserve judgment about him. Among people 18-34, 35 percent said they don't know enough about Castro to have an opinion, while 24 percent of those 35 and older said that.

Even so, a large majority of people -- 62 percent -- said the United States should reestablish diplomatic ties. The scant contact between the two countries is now handled through Switzerland or via low-level diplomatic offices called interests sections.

The U.S. cut off diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961, two years after Castro led an armed revolution that drove out U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Decades-old trade and travel embargoes made it illegal for U.S. businesses to trade in an economy they once dominated. Few Americans have visited Cuba.

Nearly half of those polled, 46 percent, said they would not be at all interested in vacationing in Cuba. Forty percent of those polled said they would be interested in vacationing there if a long-standing travel ban were lifted.

The poll of 1,000 adults was taken Jan. 30-Feb. 1 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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