By Ben Kew:
On the first night of the Republican National Convention, the GOP rolled out what has become a predictable yet consistently effective weapon. Máximo Álvarez, a Cuban refugee turned successful businessman, warned Americans about the risk of a slippery slope towards the type of socialist dystopia he fled from as a young child.
“I’m speaking to you today because I’ve seen people like this before,” he declared. “I’ve seen movements like this before. I’ve seen ideas like this before and I’m here to tell you, we cannot let them take over our country.”
Álvarez is one of the many Cuban Americans traditionally loyal to the GOP and the pursuit of limited government, a position indisputably shaped by their experiences of Castro’s communist rule. The majority of Cubans live in Florida, having arrived on the shores of Miami since the revolution began. With a population of 1.53 million in the sunshine state alone, their influence has swung elections in favor of Republican candidates for decades, many of whom are of Cuban heritage themselves.
However, there is now a growing demographic of Floridians equally hostile to socialism and favorable to Donald Trump, or at least the anti-socialist cause. Around 200,000 Venezuelans are eligible to vote in the state, and pollsters say they could play a vital role in the outcome of this year’s election. Those now living in the U.S. have fled a failed state in a deep humanitarian crisis under the iron grip of dictator Nicolás Maduro, where inflation runs at over 10 million percent and people have turned to eating zoo animals in order to survive. Using the example of Venezuela has proved a powerful campaign strategy for conservatives in Latin America; both Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Colombia’s Ivan Duque successfully weaponized it in their 2018 presidential campaigns to devastating effect.
Unlike the younger generation of Cubans, the ongoing Venezuelan tragedy remains very raw for the country’s émigrés. An overwhelming majority want Maduro removed from power and a transition to democracy, and there is no greater champion for this than Trump himself. Declaring that his socialist tyranny must be “smashed and broken,” his administration has imposed an array of sanctions against the regime and its leading officials, further crippling its already shattered economy and vital oil industry. He has also repeatedly touted the idea of launching a Condor style military invasion of the country, but was eventually dissuaded by other regional leaders. There have even been suggestions that Trump may ease his notoriously tough immigration laws for Venezuelans because of the crisis in their homeland.
Despite being generally supportive of Trump’s policy, it is easy to imagine why a more progressively-minded Venezuelan would not be troubled by lending their vote to Joe Biden. If America turning into Venezuela is what they fear, the idea of this happening under a Biden presidency still seems farfetched. The 77-year-old Democratic nominee himself realises voters fear that brand of left-wing authoritarianism and has promised to maintain the policy of seeking to remove Maduro from power. He has even reprimanded Trump for being open to meet Maduro in a similar way to his meeting with Kim Jong-un.
Yet while Biden has no issue denouncing Maduro, it is the party and movement he represents that should cause his campaign concern. A handful of Democratic lawmakers (most notably “The Squad”) are openly sympathetic to the “Bolivarian Revolution,” while leftist ideas and rhetoric continue to enter the mainstream, a fact often pointed out by Biden’s primary opponent Senator Bernie Sanders. It is also worth noting that Biden was part of the administration that liberalised relations with Havana to the anger of many Cuban Americans.
As is the case in most swing states, Biden retains a small but consistent polling lead in Florida. However, this is fast diminishing as a growing number of Americans find themselves repelled by the violence and instability caused by the George Floyd riots, combined with Biden’s hesitation in condemning them. Add that to the fact his VP pick Kamala Harris has one of the Senate’s most left-wing voting records and is an open supporter of Black Lives Matter (an organization whose stated aim is the overthrow of capitalism), and many Floridians of all types will be less than enthusiastic. The question for Trump is whether he can capitalise on engrained anti-socialist sentiment and turn it against Biden, painting him as allied or controlled by the radical left.
There is even concern within the Florida Democratic Party. Last month, 90 field organizers wrote a scathing letter to the party leadership accusing them of “suppressing” the state’s Hispanic vote. So for what may seem like an absurd statement in border states like Texas and California where most Latinos associate the president with the border wall, Trump’s ability to mobilise Florida’s Hispanic vote may prove crucial not just for winning the state’s 29 electoral college votes, but for clinching the election altogether.
Ben Kew is a reporter for Breitbart News covering Latin America.