Despite Hispanic Gains, Cuban Americans Retain Political Hold

MIAMI (CBS4) – As South Florida and the rest of the state’s Hispanic population continues to grow, its political influence remains largely with Cuban-Americans.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Hispanic growth in the Puerto Rican-heavy central Florida counties along Interstate 4 was almost as large as the Latino gains in Cuban-dominated South Florida during the past decade. According to the census report even heavily Hispanic cities, like Hialeah Gardens, have become even more Latino but many of the newcomers are from Central American. Weston has developed a thriving Venezuelan community and is regularly featured on the websites of Caracas real estate agents.

But while the state’s Puerto Rican, Venezuelan and Mexican communities increased, they haven’t  elected their members to high office in proportions that reflect their numbers — their organizations are fragmented and have little political involvement.

Tampa-based political consultant Angelette Aviles, a Puerto Rican, hopes Puerto Ricans and other Hispanic groups will take a closer look at the how Cuban-Americans have influenced politics, especially by channeling political donations, which has allowed them to influence even national politics.

“There’s still a big lack of engagement” among non-Cuban Latinos, she said. “There’s a lack of understanding that it takes more than just voting to shape the political process.”

In Florida’s congressional delegation, the three Hispanic members of the House and Sen. Marco Rubio are all Cuban-American. Nearly all of the 13 Latino members of the State Legislature are Cuban-American. One is Puerto Rican and another is of Spanish descent.

At just over 1 million, Cubans-Americans still are Florida’s largest Hispanic group, making up about a third of the state’s Latinos, according to the Census’ American Community Survey. Puerto Ricans now number more than 725,000.

Hispanics now make up almost 1 in 4 Floridians, up from 1 in 6 a decade ago.

The parity in Hispanic gains has political importance as it could lead to at least one new Latino-majority congressional district in the center of the state and possibly another in the south. And it could lead to a geographic shift in Florida Hispanic’s political and economic power.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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