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As Florida debuts its 'Communist Victims Day', some ask: What about victims of right-wing despots?

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Marta Lavandier
/
AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last May after signing the "Victims of Communism Day" bill in Miami.

Monday is the first “Victims of Communism Day” in Florida’s public schools, according to a new law pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis — but many Floridians, especially some Latinos, wonder why it doesn’t include victims of right-wing dictatorships that have been more numerous in Latin America's history.

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DeSantis, a Republican, officially declared the statewide observation, insisting Florida's K-12 students should learn about the brutality of communist regimes like Cuba, the Soviet Union and China. And few people would disagree with that, especially given the repressive left-wing governments ruling not just Cuba but Venezuela and Nicaragua in this hemisphere.

But while “Victims of Communism Day” is aimed mostly at Floridians who fled that left-wing tyranny in Latin America, many Floridians have been victims of brutal right-wing despotism in Latin America, too, including regimes in Argentina, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Guatemala, Haiti and, perhaps most infamously, in Chile under Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship.

Leaving that reality out of Florida classrooms, say critics, encourages a dangerously skewed view of dictatorship itself.

“If you don’t teach students Pinochet’s atrocities along with Stalin’s or Castro’s atrocities,” said Juan, a Chilean business owner in Miami who asked that his last name not be used, “they can grow up thinking the right-wing atrocities are somehow OK.”

Florida does have a law mandating students learn about Nazi atrocities and the Holocaust. But while DeSantis argues, without much evidence, that too many young Americans are seduced by socialism and communism today, many Latinos worry the the archconservative governor and likely 2024 presidential candidate is simply further demonizing the left — especially Democrats — as communists, which is a frequent GOP m.o. today.

"A lot of people were tortured and killed by the military dictatorship in Brazil," said Bill Duba, a Brazilian psychotherapist in Miami who confronted that right-wing regime as a student there.

"But I think DeSantis' goal is to mystify basically all dictatorships as communist, as leftist. It's disinformation."

Skeptics also point out DeSantis designated “Victims of Communism Day” as the day before Tuesday’s mid-term elections, when DeSantis is seeking a second term.

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