WASHINGTON — Any good will that Raul Castro enjoyed as Cuba's new leader has dissipated, according to a new poll, which found that more than four out of five of those surveyed in Cuba were unhappy with the direction of the country.
The survey, conducted by the International Republican Institute, also found that one in five Cubans cited food scarcity as their biggest worry and that 82 percent of those surveyed said life in Cuba was going "so-so, badly or very badly." That was up slightly from 80 percent last November, the last time the study was conducted.
"Cubans are as frustrated and pessimistic as they've ever been," said Alex Sutton, the institute's Latin America program director. He noted that earlier surveys suggested the younger Castro enjoyed a "small bump" in confidence when he took over for his brother Fidel in February 2008. Now, however, "a vast majority of Cubans, if given the opportunity, would vote for fundamental political change."
"Cubans are dissatisfied. They want change, politically and economically," Sutton said.
The institute, which receives funding from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, along with the National Endowment for Democracy and other private donations, has been surveying Cubans on the island since 2007 to support its work promoting democracy, Sutton said.
Though Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain chairs the institute's board, the institute — like its counterpart, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs — is nonpartisan, Sutton said.
The poll had to be conducted surreptitiously on the island. It was done by a Latin American polling firm that the institute won't name, wishing to preserve the firm's ability to keep working in Cuba. The interviews with 432 Cubans ages 18 and older were conducted face to face July 4-Aug. 7 in 12 Cuban provinces. The poll has a margin of error of 5 percentage points.
Fernand Amandi, a pollster with Miami-based Bendixen & Associates, which has polled in Cuba, wasn't familiar with the institute's poll — which will be released Tuesday — but suggested general caution in interpreting results from the country.
"That culture has institutionalized suppression of one's true feelings. . . . You have to always consider that whenever discussing studies that are done in Cuba," he said.
None of the questions involved U.S. policy toward Cuba, though 8 percent of those surveyed in Cuba volunteered that ending the U.S. embargo would help improve Cuba's economy.
There was little unanimity on the question of how to improve the Cuban economy: Twenty percent suggested changing the political system, 15 percent cited ending the practice of double currency — Cubans get paid in local Cuban pesos but must buy goods and services with a different currency — and 10 percent cited changing the economic system.
The survey also shows that if they got the chance, 75 percent of those surveyed would vote for democracy, an increase from 63 percent last year. Support is highest among those ages 40 to 49, with 82 percent saying they'd vote for a democracy. Of those 60 and older, 64 percent said they'd vote for a democracy, an increase of nearly 20 percentage points from last year.
The poll — which was conducted after the Obama administration announced that it would allow U.S. companies to offer cellular roaming services, satellite TV and radio, and fiber-optic cable to the island — shows that most Cubans — 57 percent — still have no access to the Internet or e-mail.
However, the poll found that the number of Cubans who make cell phone calls had increased 10 percent since last November, while the number of Cubans who are sending and receiving e-mail grew by 23 percent.
The biggest complaint about Cuba remained low salaries and a high cost of living, though complaints about food scarcity increased. The number of Cubans who cited a lack of freedom in the political system, however, declined from 18 percent in 2007 to 10 percent last year.
Just 15 percent of those surveyed said they thought that the current government would succeed in solving Cuba's biggest problems in the next few years. That's half as many as those who said last year that they thought that the government could solve Cuba's problems.
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