The massive influx of Cuban immigrants that began with the January 1, 1959 overthrow of the regime of Fulgencio Batista and rise to power of Fidel Castro, and which continued most prominently with the so-called Mariel Boatlift of 1980, which witnessed an enormous movement of 125,000 Cuban immigrants fleeing Castro’s dictatorship (plus the hundreds of hardened criminal Castro released from his prisons and placed among the immigrants), permanently altered the political landscape not just in Florida, but in a major section of New Jersey as well, and in specific districts of New York. There is no question, however, that on a statewide basis the influence of Cuban Americans in Florida dwarfs that of any other state.
The main influence of the large Cuban American population in Florida has involved the issue of relations between the United States and Cuba, and between the United States and communist or left-wing governments elsewhere in Latin America (e.g., Venezuela and Nicaragua). Having fled Fidel and Raul Castro’s communist enclave on the island of Cuba, these immigrants are staunchly anti-communist, and are very influential in national debates regarding U.S. economic sanctions on and travel restrictions to Cuba. Politicians representing southern Florida, for example, Dade and Broward Counties, are expected to support the Cuban American position on U.S.-Cuba relations, or suffer the consequences during election season. Consequently, in Florida, as well as Elizabeth, New Jersey, liberal congressional districts are routinely represented by Democrats who buck their own party when the issue of Cuba comes up. This, then, is the main way in which Cuban Americans have influenced the politics of Florida.