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From Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego, they heard Trump howling in Hialeah

Constitutional Contempt: Former President and 2024 GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a sign with Hialeah Mayor Esteban Bovo at a campaign rally in Hialeah, Fla., Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. The sign reflects Bovo's plans to name a street in Hialeah for Trump.
Lynne Sladky
/
AP
Constitutional Contempt: Former President and 2024 GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a sign with Hialeah Mayor Esteban Bovo at a campaign rally in Hialeah, Fla., Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. The sign reflects Bovo's plans to name a street in Hialeah for Trump.

COMMENTARY Trump's rally in Hialeah — and a nearby forum on Latin American democracy hours before — are reminders of the toxic effect he has on constitutionalism in the Western Hemisphere.

On Wednesday, two important public events took place in, appropriately, Miami, aka the nexus of the Americas. One you no doubt knew all about — Donald Trump’s MAGA rally in Hialeah — the other you were likely clueless about.

But they were strongly related and, taken together, made this old man feel pessimistic about democracy in the Western Hemisphere.

Let me take you first to the gathering you probably weren’t aware of. In Coral Gables, Florida International University and the Fundación Internacional para la Libertad — a think tank founded by Peruvian Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa — co-hosted a forum on the democratic challenges facing the Americas.

READ MORE: Trump Trap: Don't expect rule of law from the Americas if we can't expect it from America

I was a panelist for the session on democratic backsliding in Latin America. One theme that seemed to emerge from our punditry was that military epaulettes have been replaced by political neckties — or, in the case of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, a backward baseball cap.

What I mean is, while Latin America has broken its addiction to the military dictatorships of the past century, democracy there faces a new, more civilian and more insidious threat in this century. Namely: populist leader after leader, party after party, left and right, who are trashing democratic constitutionalism and institutionalism so they can rule, sometimes brutally, without limits.

From Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego, the showcases are legion.

There’s leftist Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who spends each day trying to subvert his country’s judicial system to accommodate his brazen power grabs. Or the right-wing Pacto de Corruptos oligarchy next door in Guatemala, which is raping that nation’s judicial integrity in order to prevent anti-corruption President-elect Bernardo Arévalo from taking office in January.

A new Trump presidency would help Latin American populists normalize the contempt for constitutionalism that's leaching into the region's groundwater.

Or 42-year-old Bukele in El Salvador, who uses a hip, Tik-Tok generation image to hide his retro-authoritarian schemes. Such as: getting his lapdog Supreme Court to toss the Constitution like a half-eaten pupusa into the dumpster, so he can run for a second consecutive term in February.

Or, in Nicaragua, 72-year-old Vice President Rosario Murillo — the sinister power behind her soulless despot-husband Daniel Ortega’s leftist throne — who just put her own country’s Supreme Court under her thumb. Or socialist tyrant Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. Or reactionary former Brazilian President/dictator wannabe Jair Bolsonaro. Or libertarian neo-fascist Javier Milei, should he win Argentina’s presidential run-off election this month.

Ominous reports

Our panel did see signs of hope — such as the way the Brazilian and Mexican high courts have stood up to the likes of Bolsonaro and López Obrador. But we also recognized another grim problem: the U.S. itself hasn’t exactly been a model of democratic institutionalism in recent years.

Peru's Nobel Literature Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa at a Latin American democracy conference in Madrid, Spain, March 29, 2016, where he warned that Donald Trump was "aarrives during the first day of a two-day conferences where former government leaders from South America and Spain, writers and public figures will meet to talk about the future of the democracy in South America, in Madrid, Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Francisco Seco
/
AP
Peru's Nobel Literature Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa at a Latin American democracy conference in Madrid, Spain, March 29, 2016, where he expressed fears about then U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Which brings me to former President Trump’s raucous Hialeah rally Wednesday night. It came on the heels of ominous media reports that if Trump wins back the White House next year, he plans to twist the U.S. justice system into a retributive pretzel that will unleash summary vengeance on his opponents, while giving him autocratic executive rein. Then there’s last Sunday’s New York Times/Siena College poll that shows Trump leading President Biden in five key swing states.

Yep, sitting ahead is Trump: a man who, as President, spurred his unhinged cult into violently sacking the U.S. Capitol in an unsuccessful attempt to keep him in power after he lost the 2020 election to Biden.

If he does regain the presidency, he will be the American model for the Bukeles and Murillos and Mileis — he will, bottom line, inspire them to normalize the contempt for constitutionalism that keeps leaching into Latin America’s governmental groundwater.

I thought of that during our panel as I glanced at Vargas Llosa — who has spent his Nobel literary career championing democracy and human rights in Latin America. I remembered how he’d described Trump back in 2016: the U.S., he said, was “too important for the rest of the world to have in the White House a clown, a demagogue and a racist like Mr. Trump.”

Yet Trump won the presidency that year. On Wednesday, Vargas Llosa surely knew the same racist, clownish demagogue he warned about has the White House again within his reach — and would soon be howling onstage a few miles away in Hialeah.

And he knew the howling would echo from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego.

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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