'537 Votes': HBO docu shows Cuban-American voting power, so what does it mean for 2020 presidential election?

The main fear of Cuban-Americans of the Democratic Party is the party's tendency to lean left — the ghosts of Fidel Castro and communist Cuba still haunt them


                            '537 Votes': HBO docu shows Cuban-American voting power, so what does it mean for 2020 presidential election?
Cuban Americans protest to keep Elian Gonzalez in the US in 2000 (Getty Images)
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In 2000, the elections to choose the 43rd President of the United States was possibly the closest in the history of the country. It was announced that George W Bush beat Al Gore for the position more than a month after ballotting amid controversies and the contested election recount in Florida. And the margin of votes in the electoral college that helped Bush win? Just 537. The same is the title of the latest documentary on HBO from Miami filmmaker Billy Corbin. '537 Votes' tells the story of what changed the fates of the 2000 presidential elections when it looked like Al Gore might win.

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However, the arrival of a six-year-old Cuban boy could be said to have changed the fate of the American presidential elections that year. In November 1999, Elian Gonzalez was found nestled in an inner tube floating at sea three miles from Florida's Fort Lauderdale coast. His mother, her boyfriend, and the rest of the refugees on the boat to Florida had drowned after the boat capsized. Elian's survival and arrival in the United States were seen as a miracle by the anti-Communist Cuban-Americans who lobbied to keep the boy in Miami with his paternal family. However, international law was on the side of Juan Miguel, Elian's father who was still in Cuba.

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The Clinton administration to forcibly remove Elian from his relatives in April 2000 and repatriate him back to Cuba made the Cuban-American community in Florida angry as they sought for a "revenge vote" against Al Gore, then-President Bill Clinton's vice-president. Perhaps had the Elian Gonzalez dispute not happened, Cuban-Americans would have likely voted for Gore, and would have helped him win the electoral vote and thus become the President, but history moved differently.

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What '537 Votes' shows its viewers is simply the political power that Cuban-Americans wield through their voting. Historically, Cuban-Americans have tended to vote conservatively. A 2020 Pew Research Center survey showed that 58 percent of Cuban registered voters say they affiliate with or lean toward the Republican Party, while 38 percent identify with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic. However, more than half of Cubans between 18 and 49 lean toward the Democratic Party, compared with 39 percent of those 50 or older.

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The main fear of Cuban-Americans of the Democratic Party is the party's tendency to lean left — the ghosts of Fidel Castro and communist Cuba still haunt them. In an article by Fernanda Uriegas, Nestor Diaz de Villegas, a poet, essayist and critic that has been living in the United States and writing about Cuba for 37 years said, “We always go Republican, there is nothing positive a Democrat can bring to those who have experienced socialism.”

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Dr Christopher Sabatini, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, wrote recently: "Expect the theme of Cuba, Venezuela, and socialism to continue to be raised as Trump tries to mobilize a conservative Miami-Dade base and Biden appeals to swing voters." A poll from Florida International University earlier in October 2020 showed that 59 percent of Cuban-American registered voters intend to vote for Trump, compared with 25 percent who say they will vote for Democrat Joe Biden. Another 10 percent were undecided and four percent said they wouldn't vote for either.

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'537 Votes' premieres on HBO on Wednesday, October 21, at 9/8c. The documentary will be available for viewing on HBO Max on Thursday, October 22.