Thu, Mar 4, 2021

New Atlantic Council poll: Insights on Venezuelan and Cuban American sentiments regarding US policy toward Venezuela

Report by Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center

Corruption Democratic Transitions Economic Sanctions Elections Latin America Migration Venezuela

A woman holds a Venezuelan flag while participating in a candlelight vigil held for victims of recent violence in Caracas, Venezuela May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Florida is home to the United States’ largest Venezuelan population, with the result that Venezuelan policy often reflects the state’s on-the-ground sentiment. Venezuelan Americans and Cuban Americans in Florida are typically among the most politically engaged.

So, what do those Florida voters most engaged on Venezuela think? Is there support for a more human-centered, nuanced approach toward Venezuela?

According to this Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center poll, yes. Nearly seven in ten respondents support opening new channels for humanitarian assistance—and that’s even with Nicolás Maduro in power. On sanctions, the defining tool of the previous administration’s approach, approximately half of all respondents—even though they are pro-sanctions—agree that sanctions should be removed if Maduro takes steps toward free and fair elections.

The bottom line

Venezuelan-American and Cuban-American voters support an alternative policy approach that places the alleviation of human suffering at the core of US efforts. Almost seven in ten Venezuelan Americans and Cuban Americans in Florida believe that Venezuela should be a high or somewhat high priority for US foreign policy.

While 89 percent of respondents believe Nicolás Maduro is responsible for causing the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela, 65 percent of them believe that the United States and the international community should provide more humanitarian assistance to address the complex humanitarian emergency in Venezuela, regardless of whether Nicolás Maduro remains in power.

Moreover, seven in ten respondents believe that the US government should use the confiscated assets of corrupt Venezuelans associated with the Maduro government to address Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.

Eighty-nine percent of respondents support the decision to grant Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) and provide temporary legal status to Venezuelan migrants in the United States, and almost nine in ten Venezuelan Americans and Cuban Americans support a more permanent solution to grant legal status to Venezuelan migrants.

Regarding individual sanctions, 82 percent of poll respondents support sanctions on individuals in the Maduro government accused of violations of human rights, corruption schemes, illicit activities, and the erosion of democratic institutions in Venezuela.

While 77 percent of respondents support current US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and 65 percent of respondents support maintaining the Trump maximum pressure policy, 46 percent of respondents agree that the United States should remove oil sanctions if the Maduro government agrees to hold free and fair elections in Venezuela. Despite initial adherence to hardline policies, the support of oil sanctions falls over 30 percent when respondents consider improving electoral conditions.

Five in ten respondents (52 percent) agree that the US government should eliminate economic sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry to allow additional oil revenue to be specifically used to import food and medicine to address the humanitarian emergency in the country. Initial support of oil sanctions goes down by over 40 percent when considering allowing Venezuela’s oil revenues, not managed by the Maduro government, to be used for humanitarian assistance programs.

While 63 percent of Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American voters who participated in this survey voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, this constituency is willing to consider US policies that promote humanitarian efforts in Venezuela and generate a pathway to democracy by adjusting sanctions.

Poll analysis

Sanctions and the humanitarian crisis

Under the Trump Administration

The Trump administration’s economic-sanctions policy toward Venezuela failed to trigger the political changes that the Trump administration expected from Maduro and his inner circle. According to an upcoming Atlantic Council report, sectoral sanctions on state-owned company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and broader economic sanctions on Maduro’s government sharpened the contraction of an oil industry already in decline, limiting the country’s much-needed fiscal revenue (although it is unlikely the Maduro government would have used that revenue for the benefit of the Venezuelan people), and effectively blocked off a country already isolated from international financial markets.

Rather, economic sanctions have impacted the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela in ways that the United States did not originally intend. At the same time, the Maduro government has conveniently inserted sanctions into its “anti-imperialist” narrative and used them as a pretext for: persecuting the opposition; eroding democratic institutions; violating human rights; strengthening ties with Cuba, Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey; and providing support to irregular armed groups within Venezuela to diversify illicit economic operations, replace the fall in oil revenue, circumvent sanctions, and keep itself in power.

A Venezuela flag is held as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the crisis in that nation during a visit to Florida International University in Miami, Florida, U.S., February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Under the Biden Administration

In its review of sanctions policy toward Venezuela, the Biden administration, in coordination with its international allies, should recalibrate economic sanctions to mitigate the collateral effects on the Venezuelan people, while maintaining an active agenda to support the restoration of democratic institutions and electoral conditions.

Although 77 percent of Venezuelan Americans and Cuban Americans in Florida support sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry, 46 percent of respondents support a removal of oil sanctions if the Maduro government agrees to hold internationally recognized free and fair elections. This shift shows a declining trend in support for oil sanctions. Over 30 percent of Cuban Americans and Venezuelan Americans could be persuaded into supporting policies that seek to generate a “pathway to democracy” by adjusting sanctions.

Regarding humanitarian assistance programs for Venezuela, 65 percent of Cuban Americans and Venezuelan Americans believe that the United States and the international community should provide more humanitarian assistance to address the complex humanitarian emergency in Venezuela, regardless of whether Nicolás Maduro remains in power. Moreover, seven in ten respondents believe that the United States government should use the confiscated assets of corrupt Venezuelans associated with the Maduro government to address Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.

In the short term, one alternative for the Biden administration is to lead an international coalition to support a framework to exchange oil for humanitarian aid in Venezuela. The Maduro government would not have access to the oil revenues, and Western oil companies, in coordination with international aid organizations, would have a central role in ensuring the effectiveness and transparency of such a program. In the Atlantic Council poll, half of Florida’s Venezuelan Americans and Cuban Americans support an oil-for-medicine-and-food plan to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

Over the longer term, US and European oil companies will be important players in ensuring the sustainability and profitability of the Venezuelan energy sector. In its sanctions review, the Biden administration must allow for the proper re-operationalization of these firms in Venezuela as a way to secure the restoration of the country’s most important asset, safeguard against destabilizing external influences, and promote respect for democratic institutions.

Meanwhile, as the crisis in Venezuela continues, the Biden-Harris administration will have to evaluate its options to grant additional immigration benefits, such as the Temporary Protected Status (TPS), to Venezuelans. According to the poll, 89 percent of respondents support the approval of the DED, which granted temporary legal status to Venezuelan migrants residing in the United States, protecting them from deportation for eighteen months while also allowing Venezuelans to work. However, nine in ten Venezuelan Americans and Cuban Americans support a more permanent solution to granting legal status to Venezuelan migrants. The US administration’s decision will affect Venezuelan migrants’ ability to remain and work temporarily in the United States, while avoiding deportation to one of the most unstable countries in the world.

Venezuelan migrants walk towards the border between Venezuela and Colombia during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in San Cristobal, Venezuela October 12, 2020. Picture taken October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Regarding individual sanctions, eight out of ten respondents of the new Atlantic Council poll support maintaining individual sanctions on Venezuelans who have violated human rights; sustained ties to criminal groups, or participated in illicit activities such as drug trafficking, gold trafficking, and other corrupt activities. Thus, findings point out support for continuing and perhaps expanding individual sanctions on Maduro-connected individuals who are known to have committed human-rights violations and engaged in corruption.

Background

Understanding US Foreign Policy on Venezuela: Sanctions, human rights, multilateralism

For the past decade and a half, the US government has leveraged the use of sanctions to elicit behavior change from specific targets in Venezuela, including individuals, private enterprises, and public entities. Sanctions under the Barack Obama administration focused mostly on individuals who had committed corrupt actions and human-rights violations. Starting in 2017, as the Venezuela crisis deepened and the authoritarian government of Nicolás Maduro became more repressive, the Donald Trump administration imposed financial and sectoral sanctions targeting specific entities, including the state-owned company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), to seek regime change, as outlined by the US State Department’s democratic transition framework. While regime change was not accomplished, this policy approach has created aftershocks that continue to reverberate, both in Venezuela and abroad.

With the Biden-Harris administration, the United States’ foreign policy toward Venezuela will be recalibrated. While navigating and gauging its new strategy, the US administration will focus on the restoration of democratic institutions in Venezuela, working with international partners to build an international campaign that advances inclusive dialogue with civil society and democratic political leaders. To achieve this goal, bipartisan congressional support will be critical to create a comprehensive policy framework and maintain a long-term approach toward Venezuela. Polling results indicate that key constituencies in Florida would support a change in policy that seeks to enhance a humanitatian approach to Venezuela.

Venezuelan woman and her child sit at a gym which has turned into a shelter for Venezuelans and is run by Civil Defense with meals provided by Evangelical churches in Caimbe neighbourhood in Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Nacho Doce SEARCH “VENEZUELAN MIGRANTS” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Venezuelans in Florida

Currently, Florida is home to more than two hundred thousand Venezuelan residents, and an estimated seventy-five thousand are registered voters. Members of the Venezuelan diaspora, like those of the Cuban diaspora, are perceived as strong advocates for hardline policies that support a “maximum-pressure” strategy of sanctions and restrictions aimed at accelerating political change in Venezuela.

This policy preference, echoed by the Republican presidential campaign, became evident as Venezuelans demonstrated support for the Republican Party in last year’s election, both at the top of the ticket and in down-ballot races. Ultimately, this support helped Donald Trump win Florida and unseated two incumbent Democratic congressional representatives in Miami-Dade County (District 26 and District 27), epicenter of the Venezuelan diaspora. Echoing these results, 63 percent of Cuban Americans and Venezuelan Americans who participated in the new Atlantic Council survey voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

Political fragmentation of the Venezuelan community in the United States, especially in Florida, represents a challenge to a more comprehensive bipartisan policy approach to help the Venezuelan people find a viable pathway to democracy and the restoration of democratic institutions. To counter increasing polarization, Venezuelans must engage in constructive conversations that seek to build a more inclusive future for their community in the United States and coalesce political support across parties to address the crisis back home.

The logos of Unicef and of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, are seen in boxes at the warehouse of Venezuelan Red Cross, where international humanitarian aid for Venezuela is being stored, in Caracas, Venezuela, April 22, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Poll results

1. When it comes to US foreign policy priorities, should the new administration of President Joe Biden make US policy toward Venezuela a high priority or a low priority?

2. Please tell me whether you have a favorable opinion, or an unfavorable opinion of the name read to you: Nicolás Maduro.

Venezuela is experiencing a severe humanitarian emergency. According to the United Nations, around seven million people in Venezuela, approximately 25 percent of the population, need emergency humanitarian assistance due to the deterioration in services, lack of food, lack of clean water, and increases in previously eradicated infectious diseases.

3. Who do you believe is most responsible for causing the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela—sanctions imposed by the US government or the Venezuelan government led by Nicolás Maduro?

4. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? The United States and the international community should provide more humanitarian assistance to the people of Venezuela, whether or not Nicolás Maduro remains in power.

The United States government has confiscated millions of dollars in assets stolen by corrupt Venezuelans associated with the Maduro government.

5. Do you think the United States and the international community should use the confiscated assets to address Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis?

On January 19, 2021, Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) was granted to provide temporary legal status to Venezuelan migrants residing in the United States. This program protects Venezuelans from deportation for 18 months while also allowing them to work.

6. Do you support or oppose the decision to grant temporary legal status to Venezuelan migrants?

7. Do you support or oppose a more permanent solution to granting legal status to Venezuelan migrants?

Since 2017, the previous Trump administration had implemented a policy that they regarded as “maximum pressure” toward Venezuela, characterized by economic penalties and restrictions aimed at accelerating a political change in Venezuela. Despite this “maximum pressure”, the Maduro government remains entrenched in power.

8. In your opinion should the United States continue the Trump maximum pressure policy as is, make changes to the maximum pressure policy or end the maximum pressure policy altogether?

Since 2015, the United States has imposed targeted sanctions on individuals in the Maduro government accused of violations of human rights, corruption schemes, illicit activities, and the erosion of democratic institutions in Venezuela.

9. Do you believe that the United States’ current policy of imposing individual sanctions on Venezuelan officials of the Maduro government should be continued, or should the individual sanctions be ended?

In addition to individual sanctions on Venezuelan officials associated with the Maduro government, the United States has imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan state-owned oil enterprise known as PDVSA.

10. Do you support or oppose the United States current policy of imposing sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry?

A variety of ideas for how US policy toward Venezuela might change under the administration of President Joe Biden are currently being discussed by policymakers, analysts, and the international community at large. Next, we’d like to ask your opinion on several of these ideas.

11. Should the United States remove current sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry if the Maduro government agrees to hold free and fair elections in Venezuela?

12. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? The US government should eliminate economic sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector in order to allow these additional oil revenues to be specifically used to import food and medicine to address the humanitarian emergency in the country. This should be done only if the Maduro government is prohibited from accessing and managing oil revenues.

13. Which candidate did you vote for in the November 2020 US Presidential election, Joe Biden, Donald Trump or someone else?

Demographics

1. First, in order to be sure that we have a representative sample, can you please tell me your age?

2. In what country were you born?

2a. If you were born in the United States, in what country were most of your parents and grandparents born?

2b. If you were not born in the United States, how many years have you lived in the United States?

Gender of respondent:

Language of interview:

Party:

Methodology and about the pollster

  • Data collection: February 1, 2021–February 14, 2021
  • Total completed interviews: 602 Venezuelan American and Cuban American voters in Florida
  • Margin of error: +\- 4 percentage points
  • Level of confidence: 95 percent
  • Subsample of Venezuelan American voters in Florida: N=302, margin of error +/- 5.6 percentage points
  • Subsample of Cuban American voters in Florida: N=300, margin of error +/- 5.6 percentage points
Project Methodological Summary

The research project, conducted by Bendixen & Amandi International, was a live-operator telephone survey of registered voters in Florida who are of Venezuelan and Cuban heritage. The project was designed to determine perceptions and attitudes regarding US policy toward Venezuela and the survey instrument was offered in the language of preference of the respondent, either English or Spanish.

About Bendixen & Amandi International

Bendixen & Amandi International (B&A) is a full-service management and communications consulting firm specializing in qualitative and quantitative opinion research and media communications, with particular expertise and an international reputation for work with the Latino community and other minority populations in the United States and around the world. B&A has successfully managed numerous large-scale projects for corporations, national philanthropies, federal agencies, public policy campaigns, international organizations, governments, and presidential candidates in the United States and abroad.

B&A is generally regarded as the foremost research firm in the United States in the area of multilingual and multicultural research, with unparalleled expertise conducting opinion research and communications campaigns. The firm has been at the forefront of setting new standards for multilingual research, and has developed and employed unique sampling methodologies that ensure representativeness of the sample or subsample. It has conducted numerous research projects that require representative qualitative and/or quantitative research with Latinos, Asian Americans, African Americans, and other subgroups of the population.

The Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center broadens understanding of regional transformations through high-impact work that shapes the conversation among policymakers, the business community, and civil society. The Center focuses on Latin America’s strategic role in a global context with a priority on pressing political, economic, and social issues that will define the trajectory of the region now and in the years ahead. Select lines of programming include: Venezuela’s crisis; Mexico-US and global ties; China in Latin America; Colombia’s future; a changing Brazil; Central America’s trajectory; Caribbean development; commercial patterns shifts; energy resources; and disinformation.