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Trump's Better Than Dems At Using Latin America As A Political Prop. That's Not Really A Compliment

RED SCARE Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez speaking to the virtual Republican National Convention Tuesday night.
Susan Walsh
RED SCARE Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez speaking to the virtual Republican National Convention Tuesday night.

COMMENTARY Trump's made comparing Biden to Latin American socialists the theme of his campaign. Why aren't Democrats playing the caudillo card?

Maybe it’s because I live in Miami – where news from Havana matters more than what happens in Hialeah – but here’s my takeaway from this month’s party conventions:

The Republicans are much better at using Latin America as a political prop than the Democrats are. But I don’t really mean that as a compliment.

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This week’s virtual Republican National Convention – most dramatically a speech by Miami Cuban exileMaximo Alvarez – has warned voters over and over that totalitarian socialist regimes in Latin America, like communist Cuba’s, are what America’s in for if Joe Biden and the Democrats win in November.

That’s the kind of over-the-top propaganda we expect from, well, totalitarian socialist regimes in Latin America. But it’s effective propaganda. Not just in Latino-majority Miami, where an understandable hatred of left-wing authoritarians in Latin America is a voter boon for President Trump; but also in Latino-wary Middle America, where Trump’s convinced millions of white suburbanites to imagine Latin America as a cauldron of "rapists and drug traffickers."

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They were the folks an emotional Alvarez, who escaped the Cuban Revolution in 1961, was addressing when he said, “When I watch the news [of social unrest] in Seattle, Chicago, Portland and other cities…I hear echoes of my former life” in Cuba. Biden, he asserted, will make America swallow that same “poison pill.”

The next night, Florida’s Cuban-American Lieutenant Governor, Jeanette Nuñez, said Trump has “shownunwavering resolve confronting [left-wing] tyrants in countries like Venezuela, Cuba…and Nicaragua” and wants to block “the socialist takeover of our nation” by Biden.

So why didn’t Democrats put the same Latin America scream screen behind their virtual convention speakers last week?

They certainly could have. There’s more than enough agreement out there – in both Miami and Middle America – that you can also draw an authoritarian analogy between Latin America and Trump.

Why didn't Democrats put the Latin America scream screen behind their convention speakers – and pin the caudillo on the elephant the way Republicans are playing pin the communist on the donkey?

On the Univision-Facebook Watch program “Real America with Jorge Ramos,” correspondent Tim Rogers astutely lays out several well-documented reasons Trump evokes Latin America’s long line of caudillos, or autocratic strongmen, right- and left-wing. They include Trump’s bullying personality cult; his history of lies, narcissism, nepotism, subverting democratic institutions for personal political gain, addiction to executive fiat, attacks on the media and “crying coup when faced with legal challenges to his authority.”

This year the Democratic Super PAC Priorities U.S.A. got decent social media traction with its #CaudilloDay campaign– ads in which Latinos, including Cuban and Venezuelan exiles, experience despotic déjà vu while talking about Trump. In June, when Trump sent the military to fire pepper spray at people peacefully protesting racist police brutality near the White House, more than a few Venezuelan expats here said it reminded them of the late caudillo Hugo Chávez.

“Watching it was almost a PTSD episode for many of us,” one told me.


Was it somehow out of bounds for Democrats last week to let speakers like that frame the Latin America comparisons? That sentiment, after all, parallels Alvarez’s “echoes of my former life in Cuba” line.

Perhaps it’s too parallel – and that may be a reason Democrats were reluctant to pin the caudillo on the elephant last week the way Republicans are playing pin the communist on the donkey this week.

Trump and Chavez side by side in a #CaudilloDay political ad
Priorities USA via Twitter
Trump and Chavez side by side in a #CaudilloDay political ad

They concede it’s easy to identify caudillo tendencies in Trump; but they fear there’s a risk that, in their case, comparing him too overtly to monsters like Augusto Pinochet and Fidel Castro could backfire. Or appear hypocritical, since they’ve condemned the way Trump and the GOP have so overtly painted Biden in a beard, beret and fatigues smoking a Cohiba.

There’s also the risk of giving the GOP more kindling to throw on the red-baiting bonfire. More ads that rewind Democratic Senator and liberal darling Bernie Sanders’ remarks this year that things “weren’t all bad” in Cuba under Castro. Or the gushing eulogy that liberal California Congresswoman Karen Bass – who was on Biden’s V.P. short list – gave Castro when he died four years ago.

Better and safer, Democrats seem to have decided, to link Trump to the coronavirus misery in America rather than caudillo malevolence in Latin America. They wager debating health care in Hialeah instead of the communist scare in Havana will resonate more in Miami – and Middle America.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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