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Trivializing Tyranny: Fraudulent Political Attacks Like Lago's Mock Latin American Pain

Douglas Hanks
Miami Herald
MIAMI MCCARTHYISM Then Coral Gables City Commissioner Vince Lago speaks at a commission meeting in 2018.

COMMENTARY Too many South Florida politicians — most recently Vince Lago — use the suffering caused by despots in Latin America to spin disinformation here.

It’s bad enough that Coral Gables mayoral candidate Vince Lago is pushing a shameless lie about one of his opponents in next Tuesday’s election.

What makes it worse, though, is how just as shamelessly Lago’s lie trivializes tyranny — in this case the brutal regime running Venezuela.

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First the lie.

Lago, a Cuban-American Republican who’s currently Coral Gables’ vice mayor, has decided to hop on the McCarthy-mobile that's lately been laying disinformation tire tracks up and down South Florida. You’re in a tight race down here? Just rub the My-Rival-Is-A-Red! lamp that Donald Trump peddled across our region like coked-up cafecito makers. Then watch the genie tar your competition as a ¡comunista radical! who eats arepas every morning with Venezuela’s socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro.

Which is precisely what Lago has done to his Democratic opponent, Patricia Keon.

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Thanks to the inexplicable chaos of the internet, a Keon campaign image recently – and mistakenly – ended up atop the website page of Telesur, the Venezuelan regime’s propaganda news network. So Coral Gables First, a political committee that backs Lago, put up English and Spanish ads on social media and robotext that plaster Keon’s face across a Marxist-flavored, red-and-black background. The videos accuse her of having “paid money to the propaganda arm” of Maduro’s regime – and declare Keon “doesn’t support” the heavily Latino Coral Gables community.

Keon’s campaign insists it never paid Telesur for space – which is eminently believable because any candidate in South Florida would have to be politically brain-dead to intentionally engage the site. It says her online billboard somehow got randomly dropped there by the Google displays service it uses.

To all South Florida's political oportunistas: Stop using Latin American families' raw pain as the raw material for the raw lies you spread.

No matter. Lago embraced the fraudulent Coral Gables First spots and told the Miami Herald’s Samantha J. Gross this week that Keon showed “lack of sensitivity and understanding…toward our many friends and neighbors who have suffered at the hands” of leftist regimes in Latin America.

And that’s where the rest of us in South Florida who care about that suffering – I myself have several relatives and close friends chafing under Venezuela’s despotism – need to shout, “¡Ya!” Enough! To say to all the political oportunistas here: stop mocking the genuine seriousness of that despotism by using it as a partisan plaything you pull out of your campaign toy chest every time you desperately need to scare the crap out of voters.

Stop using our families' raw pain as the raw material for the raw lies you’re spreading. About election opponents. About political parties. About racial-justice movements.


Which brings us to the likely reason Lago felt he had to play the red card. Last week the Herald revealed he was one of the parents who’d signed an astonishing letter criticizing his daughters’ exclusive Miami Catholic school, Carrollton, for more seriously addressing the subject of systemic racism in the wake of last year’s killing of George Floyd.

Lago insists he’s not a racist, and the Herald editorial page acknowledges his personal and professional history doesn’t suggest it. But this week the Herald nonetheless withdrew its earlier endorsement of Lago, and now backs Keon, because of the remarkably poor personal and professional judgment his signature on the Carrollton letter showed. His lack of sensitivity and understanding, let’s say, toward our many friends and neighbors who’ve suffered at the hands of America’s very real systemic racism.

GOOGLE DROP An online campaign banner for Coral Gables mayoral candidate Patricia Keon mistakenly ended up atop the webpage of the Venezuelan regime's news network Telesur this month.

The fact that an otherwise decent person like Lago would have autographed that epistle – which suggested racial justice movements like Black Lives Matter are steeped in Marxism and “anti-Catholic indoctrination” – and that he’d then stoop to rank Miami McCarthyism to dig out of the political hole it’s put him in, is a testament to the toxic hold Trumpism still has on this community.

When you call the number on Coral Gables First’s Facebook page, by the way, you get a Coral Gables consulting firm called The American Strategies Group. It’s run by Ariel Fernandez – a former top aide to former Miami Congressman David Rivera, who's given even gutter politics a bad name here and was just ordered by a federal judge to pay a $456,000 fine for violating campaign finance laws.

These are the sort of South Florida political players who treat Latin American tyranny like political sport. It’s a shame Vince Lago joined their team.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.