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Wouldn't it be great if Latin American democracy got credible backing from Miami?

DANGEROUS DENIALISM A pro-Trump rioter in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election (left) and pro-Bolsonaro protesters in Rio de Janeiro this week calling on the military to overturn last month's presidential election.
Manuel Balce Ceneta (left) Bruna Prado (right)
DANGEROUS DENIALISM A pro-Trump rioter in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election (left) and pro-Bolsonaro protesters in Rio de Janeiro this week calling on the military to overturn last month's presidential election.

COMMENTARY Latin American democracy is still fragile — and needs credible defense from a Latino stronghold like Miami, not Trump-toadying hypocrisy.

What was that howling, coast-to-coast groan Tuesday night? Was it Americans who’d just heard their racist, sexist, vulgar Uncle Jack tell them, “I’m coming for Thanksgiving next week, guys!” No, it was Republican politicians who’d just heard their racist, sexist, vulgar party leader Donald Trump tell them, “I’m running for President in 2024, guys!”

After watching midterm voters shun Trump the way I imagine frightened kids run away from Steve Bannon’s front porch on Halloween, a burgeoning pew of GOP politicos were praying the former president would go away and cede the party’s nomination to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Except, that is, Republican political leaders in Miami.

They have little if no choice but to stick with Uncle Donald — because so many Cuban and other Latino voters here, the only electorate that seems to matter at the tip of this peninsula, are stuck on Trump and his macho swagger toward Cuba’s communist regime. In a recent Florida International University poll, Miami-Dade County Cubans seemed as loud as a rant at a ventanita in their preference for Trump over DeSantis.

Not that DeSantis — an authoritarian, nativist, right-wing Trump wannabe whose campaign ads claim he’s anointed by God — is any 21st-century beacon, either. But at least he hasn’t stoked, as Trump did on Jan. 6, 2021, a violent insurrection to overturn a democratic election he lost.

READ MORE: MAGA asks: Who's hiding the real Bolsonaro and his MBGA (Make Brazil Great Again) army?

And the fact that Miami’s Republican honchos have to keep kowtowing to Trump — the fact that the Cuban quartet of Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Gimenez and Maria Elvira Salazar can’t allow themselves to point-blank condemn Trump for Jan. 6 — isn’t just poison for U.S. democracy.

It helps to stunt democracy in Latin America, too, at a time when the region urgently needs a better example from an iconic Latino stronghold like South Florida.

Take the two largest countries there, Brazil and Mexico.

The message supporters of Bolsonaro and López Obrador hear: if the sort of anti-democratic menace Trump ignited gets a pass in Miami, then it's tudo bem in Brazil and bien padre in Mexico.

We’re, of course, supposed to be feeling good about democracy in Brazil right now. Last month leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva narrowly defeated incumbent right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro — the so-called Tapioca Trump. Contrary to his earlier threats, Bolsonaro didn’t stage his own Jan. 6 or call in his loyal military to keep him in power.

But keep in mind: Bolsonaro still hasn’t actually conceded. His followers take that as a sign they should keep screaming in the streets, flashing Nazi salutes, claiming the Oct. 30 election was stolen and braying for Brazil’s generals to intervene — as tens of thousands of them did during nationwide protests on Tuesday — and perhaps eventually stage their own deadly revolt.

Egging them on here in the U.S. are Trump henchmen like Bannon. Meanwhile, in South Florida, home to the largest cohort of Bolsonaro-supporting Brazilian expats in the U.S., Trump toadies like the Cuban quartet, right-wing Spanish-language radio, and an astonishing swath of Latino voters refuse to censure that kind of election denialism.


And the message Bolsonaro backers are no doubt hearing: if this sort of anti-democratic menace gets a pass in Miami, then it’s tudo bem in Rio de Janeiro.

Miami Cubans rallying for Donald Trump.
Alan Diaz
Miami Cubans rallying for Donald Trump.

They’ve got to be taking the same cue on Latin America’s dictatorial left, too. Not just inside the region’s socialist “troika of tyranny” — Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — but in Mexico. Authoritarian leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is on a democracy-trashing roll there that Trump would be proud of.

López Obrador’s latest target is Mexico’s federal elections authority, one of the country’s few credible democratic institutions. He wants to slash its budget and, most of all, its independence — much the way Trump loyalists hope to gut and control every state and county election agency in the U.S.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Mexico City last Sunday to protest López Obrador’s scheme. But wouldn’t it be just padrísimo if they also had the credible — credible — backing of U.S. Latino leaders like Rubio, Diaz-Balart, Gimenez and Salazar, all of whom make a great show of defending democracy in Latin America?

It sure would. Instead, López Obrador and every other brazen caudillo in the region — from Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele to Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei — can simply dismiss them as hypocrites.

Especially if Miami’s cowardly silence helps Uncle Donald win in 2024.

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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