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Latin American Expat Voices Should Be Heard Amid The Floyd Protests – Warning Us

Andre Penner
Brazilian police fire at protesters in Sao Paulo last Sunday.


It’s a mystery why the Trump Administration chose Miami this week as one of only two major U.S. cities to be sent “riot teams” as protests against police brutality and racism sweep the nation.

But you can be fairly sure that that brief federal deployment impressed one very large group here in particular: conservative, voter-eligible Latin American expats, especially those who fled lawlessness in their home countries for the law and order of this one. And yet, Latin American expats are precisely the South Floridian voices that should be heard amid these angry marches – warning the rest of us.

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Warning us against letting the police thuggery that killed George Floyd continue to proliferate in America – because they’ve seen if not escaped its monstrous, unchecked proliferation in Latin American and Caribbean countries like Venezuela.

Warning American white people against the corrosive effects of not standing up to cops who target people of color – because they’ve seen if not escaped the even more destructive effects of standing by as that abuse rages in countries like Brazil.

Warning U.S. police against increasingly envisioning themselves as military shock troops instead of as community law enforcement – because they’ve seen if not escaped that all too often deadly mindset in countries like Honduras.

READ MORE: Bahamas to U.S. Cops: You Look More Like Latin American and Caribbean Cops

Instead, all week my Twitter feed’s been full of expat posts like one from a Venezuelan exile who branded the U.S. protesters as “left radical groups.”

Latin American expats should be warning us against letting the police thuggery that killed George Floyd proliferate here – because they've seen its monstrous, unchecked proliferation in their countries.

I understand the immigrant impulse to demonstrate patriotism in one’s adopted country. But the coast-to-coast outrage we’re watching in response to yet another American black person’s murder-by-cop should remind Latin American expats that patriotism means something broader under a democratic Constitution than it does under a despotic caudillo. It means the folks you see in the streets right now are actually as patriotic as you claim to be – and they’re not, as so many of you so absurdly declare, kindred spirits of the left-wing regimes you left behind.

It’s dumbfounding that any Venezuelan living in Doral or Weston could watch the video of the Minneapolis policeman’s knee fatally grinding Floyd’s neck and not be viscerally transported to Caracas – where the U.N. says cops and other security forces are responsible for thousands of extrajudicial killings of unarmed citizens in recent years.

It’s hypocritical for any Cuban in Westchester or Coral Cables to see it and not ponder the bullying, manhandling arrests of dissidents like the Ladies in White on the streets of Havana or Santiago de Cuba, for doing nothing more criminal than calling for basic human rights.


It’s clueless of any Brazilian in Brickell or Hollywood to view it and not wince and be reminded of Rio de Janeiro’s reckless and racist cops – who killed more than 1,800 people last year, a record. Three-fourths of those victims were poor black residents who included unarmed, 14-year-old João Pedro Pinto. Police shot him in the back last month in a Rio favela, or slum, during a mistaken home raid. It was reminiscent of the police killing of a black U.S. medical worker, Breonna Taylor, at her Louisville apartment three months ago.

Credit Rodrigo Abd / AP
Venezuelan special forces police, who are accused by the UN of killing thousands of people in poor barrios.

The list of Latin American expat groups here who should know better goes on and on. Colombians in Kendall can attest to the same abuses in Colombia, where last year police killed unarmed street protesters like 18-year-old Dilan Cruz. Mexicans in Homestead are certainly aware Mexico has yet to solve the horrific 2014 police massacre of 43 mostly indigenous students. Nicaraguans in Sweetwater know Daniel Ortega’s cops have killed more than 300 protesters calling for the ouster of his corrupt and dictatorial regime since 2018.

I would also urge affluent black expats from Caribbean countries like Haiti, the Bahamas and Jamaica, where the constabularies can be just as oppressive, to reconsider their own complacency. Many who are now here may not have suffered police trauma back there, because their political clout or economic class kept it at arm’s length. But chances are in the U.S. their past privilege won’t shield them when they get pulled over by a racist white cop or happen to jog through a neighborhood where they don’t fit the “profile.”

One possible reason Trump sent a “riot team” to Miami is that he hopes law and order-minded Latin American expats will help deliver Florida to him in November. They certainly have every right to support Trump. They’re just far less in the right to disregard in their new country what's even more rampant back in their old countries.

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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