By Sebastian Lomaglio – Nov 2, 2020
Just a week before the November 3 election, a New York Times report on plans by a future Joseph Biden administration to restart negotiations with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro roiled the Democratic presidential hopeful’s campaign. The October 27 article provoked a wave of attacks from Cuban-American Republicans like Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Senator Marco Rubio, who pointed to it as proof that Biden would embrace the cause of socialism in Latin America.
Days later, Biden’s camp forcefully denied the story, insisting to the media that he was the first Democratic candidate to recognize the unelected coup administration of Juan Guaidó.
The competition between President Donald Trump and Biden to take the most hardline position on Latin America has seen both candidates’ campaigns blanket South Florida’s airwaves and roadways with ads painting one another as crypto-communist caudillos.
Their battle for a few Latino-concentrated districts in the state only intensified as the election drew to a close, highlighting the centrality of the Florida swing vote to both parties’ strategies.
It has been the case for decades that the Latinos that live in Florida, and especially in South Florida, represent a significantly different demographic than those that reside in other US states. This is increasingly true today as hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans flock to the state and form a political bloc that supplements the strength of the right-wing Cuban-American lobby that initially cohered in the 1960s.
And while is usually difficult to pin a specific political tendency on an entire national group, South Florida Latinos are an almost unequivocal exception. Despite all their differences, many share a reflexive resentment of any semblance of left-wing politics due to the recent political history of South America.
As has been the case with Cuban-Americans, the key factor that drives politics in the area among the other nationalities is the ferocious drive to install right-wing, US-friendly, anti-socialist regimes across the region, and to avoid, among those who can vote in the US, any semblance of progressivism on the domestic front.
This is corroborated by the fact that 50% of Florida Latinos support Donald Trump over Joe Biden, and that among newly registered Cuban-American voters, 67% have registered as Republicans.
While most polls and data focus on the Cuban-American demographic, it is also important to keep in mind that the large Latino population of South Florida also includes other nationalities whose constituents, having arrived in the last 20 years, are still in the process of becoming US citizens and therefore cannot yet vote. This detail does not make them less politically active or relevant, however; rather, it makes this demographic a crucial electoral asset in the years to come.
For example, with more than 235,000 Venezuelans and 400,000 Colombians, Florida’s Latino communities are projected to become even more influential, certainy more than it already is, in future elections. It is not for nothing then that the Biden campaign has outspent the Trump campaign on TV ads in the state, with the Democrats pouring in $42 million – $12 million more than the Republicans have shelled out.
Florida’s demographic trends illustrate why both parties are ramping up the already entrenched far-right rhetoric that the Latino communities of South Florida have zealously embraced. Their goal is to gain electoral support not only in the upcoming presidential election, but to secure the allegiance of the Latino community for the future.
The Spanish-language media landscape of Greater Miami has provided a perfect theater for the overheated anti-communist narratives that shape the area’s diaspora politics, which have informed the outreach efforts of the Trump and Biden campaigns.
Miami media’s paranoid style
As self-described democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders surged in the Democratic primaries in early 2020, he became the subject of a fanatically anti-communist and borderline anti-Semitic diatribe by Daniel Lara Farías, a right-wing Venezuelan host on the Florida-based network Factores de Poder.
“Bernie Sanders is Jewish but not any kind of Jew,” Farías ranted. He explained that, though Sanders lost family in the Holocaust and studied on a Kibbutz, he was not a practicing Jew, and was married to a Catholic. According to Farías, these factors made him as racially inauthentic as Obama, who was “probably not” an actual African-American because of his mixed-race heritage.
The YouTube edition of the video was organized into chapters based on negative aspects of Sanders’ biography. They began with “BernieJudio,” or Bernie the Jew, followed by “Jóvenessocialistas,” or young socialists, and “Antisegregaciónracial,” referring to Sanders’ civil rights-era activism against racial segregation.
Another staggering example of the right-wing fever consuming South Florida’s Latino community took place when the famed Venezuelan comedian Erika de la Vega made her support for Biden and disdain for Trump public.
De La Vega was immediately bombarded with social media attacks to the point that she had to release a public statement bashing Venezuela’s leftist Chavista movement, justifying her political positions, and repeatedly clarifying that “I WILL NOT BE A COMMUNIST. NOT IN THIS NOR IN FUTURE LIVES.” Such is the toxicity that the Miami-based Venezuelan opposition manages to reserve for one of their own.
Hector Schamis, a professor at Georgetown University and star columnist at various publications including Spain’s El País, claimed in a column about the “hypocrisy of the Democratic Party” that liberals are unable to contend with their leftist ideology when it comes to truly opposing the regimes of Latin America.
To illustrate this point, Schamis complained that “this ambivalence is seen in this supposed progressivism, also illustrated by an unfortunate New York Times article in which a new theory about the violence that occurred in Cúcuta is presented. It says that the humanitarian aid fire was not caused by the regime but by a molotov, thrown by a protester, and whose previously lit rag came off the bottle and fell on the truck.”
As The Grayzone first reported and the New York Times later confirmed, video evidence from multiple angles demonstrated without a scintilla of doubt that a convoy of humanitarian aid was torched by Venezuelan opposition hooligans on February 23, 2019, then baselessly blamed on Venezuelan government forces, which were stationed far from the incident. Schamis was later fired by El Paí s for a questionably sourced column he published on one of the favorite bogeymen of the Latin American right: Cuba’s brigades of medical professionals.
In Diario Las Américas — a Spanish-language publication founded in South Florida by the right-wing Aguirre Baca brothers in 1953 — the pundit Ixtu Díaz wrote this year that the Biden campaign “has failed miserably” in projecting political moderation because of “its insane nomination of Kamala Harris” as Biden’s running mate, hence making the “arrival of socialism to the White House a real threat.”
In the same publication, the far-right Cuban commentator Yali Nuñez declared in an op-ed entitled “In November, Latinos Should Say NO to the Radical Left,” that a Biden administration would “forge closer diplomatic ties with the Communist regime in Cuba, hence ignoring the current crisis in Venezuela and the abuses of human rights in Nicaragua.”
On the other hand, Nuñez was careful to clarify, “President Trump has defended human rights and democratic values in the Western hemisphere, he understands the pain of those who have been negatively impacted by socialist regimes.”
A similarly absurd point was made about the centrist Democratic ticket by another rightist commentator popular in Miami media, Andrés Villota. “After the maelstrom of irrational violence that fundamentalist groups like ANTIFA and BLM,” Villota wrote, “supported by Biden since their conception, the Democratic party has the double and difficult task of convincing the electorate that they are not from the same lineage as Stalin, Mao, Fidel Castro, or Nicolás Maduro, while also avoiding losing the votes of the radical Marxists led by Bernie Sanders and the vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris.”
These unhinged points were echoed by the Center for a Free Cuba, a regime-change lobbying outfit funded by the US government’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Frank Calzón, the center’s executive director, published an article arguing implausibly that Biden’s Cuban policy would be dictated by socialists from the Bernie Sanders camp.
“It is not difficult to predict the difference between the recommendations of Marco Rubio and Mario Díaz-Balart and those that would present to a possible President Joe Biden characters such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez,” Calzón claimed.
Meanwhile, in PanAm Post, an online publication popular among the Latin American right-wing, Emmanuel Rondon marshaled far-right Anglo outlets including Breitbart, the New York Post, and BlazeTV as sources for an op-ed painting Joe and his failson Hunter Biden as likely assets of the Chinese Communist Party and China’s People’s Liberation Army.
The obsession with China is the engine of many of the popular paranoias that fuel the Latin American right. For Guillermo Rodriguez, a right-wing libertarian Venezuelan economist who has defended the 1973 coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power in Chile, and dismissed the notion of CIA plotting as “socialist propaganda,” the Chinese government is guilty of “a gigantic ‘agitprop’ effort from the Chinese Socialist totalitarianism to hide their criminal responsibility for the pandemic. Disinformation effort which is widely supported – openly or secretly– by almost the totality of Socialism in the broad sense of the West.”
While it might seem irrational to outsiders, particularly Bernie Sanders backers disgruntled with the rightward direction of the Democratic Party, any ploy that evokes a communist, socialist, Bolivarian, Castroist, or Chinese conspiracy within the most mundane Democratic proposal is likely to fall on fertile soil in South Florida.
Thus it is not unusual to find an op-ed in a popular Spanish-language outlet in Florida that deploys quotes by Joseph Stalin and references to Soviet tyranny to decry voting-by-mail as a Democratic partisan strategy aimed at promoting “massive fraud.”
I invite the reader to read the aforementioned articles in their entirety. Use Google translate if you are not fluent in Spanish, and you will be able to fully grasp the delusional, paranoid mind state that dominates the opinion pages of South Florida’s Latino media.
These pieces offer just a slight window into the prevailing mindset that sees beret-wearing communist guerrillas taking cover behind every milquetoast Democratic politician passing out leaflets to suburban mall-goers.
The Democrats deal immigration ace card alongside anti-communist hysteria
Since the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuban-Americans have pledged unwavering support to the GOP, and the new waves of South American immigrants seem to be on the same track.
It is for this reason that the leading and most popular source of news for the Venezuelan diaspora in the United States, EVTV Miami, enjoys a close partnership with the US government-run news agency Voice of America, which has been reshaped into a partisan propaganda arm of the Trump administration.
This is also the reason why Senator Rubio has been on the front lines of the Trump’s administration efforts to effect regime change in Venezuela. The GOP knows it not only cannot afford to lose the Cuban-American vote, but that it also must court the loyalty the more than 1 million South American immigrants in Florida who have yet to be firmly consolidated as a pro-Republican bloc.
If the GOP can supplement the built-in support of Cubans with that of Colombians, Venezuelans, and other like-minded constituencies from the region, it is confident it can transform Florida from a swing state into a solidly red state like Texas.
The aggressive dissemination of conspiratorial Republican political discourse into Floridian Spanish-language media has already succeeded in making some of the most deranged right-wing narratives mainstream. As a result, the future of Miami politics is being determined by an evidence-averse, paranoiac, far-right ideology. It’s a perfect fit for a city that made its fortune in the 1980s from the cocaine trade, gearing the country up on a drug known to provoke irrational fears of invisible enemies.
But if the trajectory of South Florida seems to be so clear, why is the Biden campaign outspending the Trump campaign on Latino outreach efforts in the area? One reason is that, on issues like Venezuela, the Democrats are no less eager to advance a regime-change agenda, albeit through more seemingly sophisticated means like lawfare disguised as “anti-corruption” efforts.
The Democrats also have an ace up their sleeve. For all the inflammatory rhetoric of the GOP and their far-right allies, there is one key issue on which the Republicans have failed to deliver to Miami Latinos: immigration reform.
It is not uncommon for the many YouTube news channels that cater to the Latino community in greater Miami to feature ads from immigration lawyers and similar services that help those who are in the United States, but who have either no legal status or are at risk of losing it.
The Democratic-led House passed a Temporary Protection Bill specifically targeted to Venezuelan immigrants; however, the GOP-controlled Senate ultimately failed to approve it. The bill would have protected from deportation around 200,000 Venezuelans.
TPS can be enacted either by the legislative branch or by executive order, something that the YouTube ads never fail to mention. And here is where the Democrats stand a chance of winning over the community not only in 2020, but most importantly in the years and decades to come.
At the same time, the specter of socialism haunts not only the Republican right, but also the liberal Democrats seeking to expand their footprint in South Florida politics.
Attacking Trump for failing to invade Venezuela
On September 26, 2020, around one hundred Nicaraguans gathered in Miami to show their support for the Biden/Harris ticket and flaunt their disdain for the Sandinista government that rules in Managua. Among the most prominent attendees was Ana Navarro, a Nicaraguan Contra cheerleader and former lobbyist for several corruption-stained, right-wing governments in Central America.
Now a key Biden campaign surrogate, Navarro reminded rally-goers that the former vice president was far from a communist and that the Democrats also supported crushing economic sanctions against the members of the “Troika of Tyranny” like Nicaragua.
Desperate to counter-act Republican propaganda about Biden’s secret socialist alliances, a Biden proxy group called Venezolanos con Biden 2020 has published a “Guide to Combat Disinformation” [PDF] that emphasizes the candidate’s hostility to leftist Latin American governments, the support he has received from Republican politicians, and his own centrist political views.
The guide asserts that Maduro has financed Trump’s political operation, and even counters the claim that “Trump will invade Venezuela,” suggesting that a military invasion would be a desirable outcome that Biden would consider.
From the Venezolanos con Biden 2020 “Guide to Combatting Disinformation”
To emphasize Trump’s supposed mollycoddling of Maduro, the guide quotes Elliot Abrams – the State Department point man on Venezuelan regime change and former Iran-Contra felon – describing a US military invasion as “magical realism.”
Making a neoconservative fanatic like Abrams appear as the sensible person in the room is a trick that perhaps only the insane cesspool of Miami politics can accomplish. While it is true that the Republicans have a clear advantage with these kinds of ploys, the Democrats have proven that they are not afraid to indulge the interventionist hallucinations of the Venezuelan diaspora.
Fully conscious of the Biden campaign’s efforts to win over the most reactionary elements of Florida’s Latino immigrant community, the Trump campaign held a last-minute, late-night mega-rally at the Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport on November 1.
There, thousands of right-wing Latino immigrants heard from figures like Roberto Marrero, the former chief of staff to failed Venezuelan coup leader Juan Guaidó, who was arrested for an alleged assassination plot and later exiled to the US; and Rick Scott, the ultra-wealthy Republican senator and Big Oil darling, who warned in barely comprehensible Spanish about a socialist takeover by Biden.
When former President Barack Obama appeared at a Biden rally in Orlando, Florida just days before, he put his own brand of Cold War scaremongering on display, asserting without evidence that “Putin of Russia, Xi of China, and Kim Jong Un of North Korea want [Trump] to win.”
In South Florida, November 3 is not only Election Day; it also marks the beginning of a new phase in the war on the Latin American left.