- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

MIAMI, Feb. 12 (UPI) — Two polls showed Wednesday that Cuban-Americans in south Florida are taking a less hard-line approach toward overthrowing the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba.

The polls show they believe dissidents in Cuba are more important than exiles and that they support dialogue with the Cuban government.

Sixty-nine percent of those polled believe dissidents in Cuba play a more important role than Cuban-Americans in the United States in the effort democratize Cuba, according by a poll conducted for the Cuba Study Group of Miami.

Another poll commissioned by The Miami Herald show 54 percent of the Cubans in the Miami area support efforts to achieve a dialogue between exiles and Cuban government officials scheduled for April.

Three recent events have seemed to signal a moderation in the attitudes of Cuban-Americans.

The first was a January visit to Miami by Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya Sardinas to gather support for his movement, known as the Varela Project. The study group poll showed 61 percent favored Paya's approach.

Later that month, Jorge Mas Santos, head of the powerful Cuban American National Foundation, said his organization would be willing to meet with Cuban officials to discuss a democratic transition. The Herald poll showed 54 percent agreed with that idea.

The third development was a meeting in Miami last week setting up a conference in Cuba in April to discuss the Castro's government's relations with exile leaders. That met with approval by 56 of those polled by The Herald.

"I think the change has been taking place since the mid-1990s, and then, I think there was a seismic change in the aftermath of the experience of the Elian Gonzalez affair," said study group Chairman Carlos Saladrigas, a Miami banking executive.

"It was when the Miami community realized, as a diplomat friend of mine said, that we were playing checkers while Castro was playing chess," Saladrigas said.

The two surveys were conducted separately. They each polled 400 Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties and have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

The study group poll was conducted by Bendixen and Associates of Miami in mid-January.

The Herald poll was conducted Feb. 7-10 by Schroth & Associates of Washington and Miami.

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