Florida voted for US President Trump. Republican campaigners began there early to recruit Latinos – very successfully, especially among exiled Venezuelans. You are in favor of US military intervention.
Three weeks before the US election, a motorcade is driving through Miami. Some hold “Latinos for Trump” signs out of open windows or carry pro-police flags with them. The “anti-socialist and anti-communist caravan”, as the organizers call them, is not the first of its kind, however this time it stretches for kilometers through the city, with 20,000 participants in thousands of cars; including Cubans, Colombians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans. About 30 vehicles take part in the counter-demonstration for Democrat Joe Biden. Trump tweets on this day: “Joe Biden is a PUPPET from the CASTRO-CHAVISTS”.
Florida State’s Latinos are not the largest group of voters, making up about 17 percent of the registered electorate. But that is above the national share of 13 percent. And it’s enough to make a choice. In addition to the usual major issue, the economy, they are extremely sensitive to US foreign policy in the hemisphere. The Cubans in exile, for example, largely favor hard-handed policies against socialist Havana. Even if that might bring family members there into everyday difficulties. This is even more true of the rapidly growing group of Venezuelans in exile. Almost everyone is hoping for a military solution to finally overthrow President Nicolás Maduro.
Four years ago, Donald Trump narrowly won Florida, one of the keys to his presidency. The registered Latino electorate has since grown from 2 million to 2.5 million people. The Democrats had actually seen a glimmer of hope that they could recapture the state. They completely missed this goal. Trump tripled his overall lead and won Florida with 375,000 votes. According to post-election polls, 47 percent of Latino voters voted for Trump, 12 percentage points more than in 2016. Why?
First, Biden and Harris lost a media battle for interpretation in Florida. Second, Latinos in Florida are also more conservative than anywhere else. And finally believe according to a study 60 percent of Latinos in the US say they would at some point go mainstream or at least improve their social status through hard work. You believe in the American Dream. It is of secondary importance that Trump assumed that immigrants from Latin America were “criminals” and “rapists”. You are already there and do not feel directly addressed.
The majority of Latinos say the US economy is the number one reason why they vote: 80 percent. Both the historically low unemployment figures under Trump and the pandemic have left their mark: Latinos are more likely to work in service jobs. They have more corona infections and fatalities to complain about in their families, at the same time less financial reserves, and are therefore dependent on their jobs. In over half of the Latino households, someone was laid off because of the Corona crisis. One third said Pew Researchthat at times they did not have enough money to buy food.
Fear of socialism exploited
The two largest Latino groups in Florida by far are Cubans with more than 900,000 eligible voters and 850,000 Puerto Ricans, who together make up 56 percent of the Latinos in Florida (55 percent of Cubans voted for Trump). The Venezuelans make up only 2 percent of the electorate, but 66 percent wanted to vote for Trump. They were also extremely enthusiastic: 98 percent said one thing before the election comprehensive survey of the University of North Florida, they wanted to vote at least likely, 89 percent “almost certain”. That was almost twice as high as that of other Latinos.
Trump designed his Venezuela policy only for the purpose of winning Florida again, writes the “New York Times”. Self-proclaimed Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó was a guest at the White House in February and made an acclaimed appearance at Trump’s State of the Union address. Ever stricter sanctions against Caracas showed the will to enforce and the parallel secret meetingsto make Maduro resign to move, the goal.
The Venezuelans have been strongly influenced by the experiences of the decline of their homeland, says the political scientist Maria Puerta Riera, who is herself a Venezuelan and has lived in Orlando, Florida for five years. “People feel uncomfortable and are depressed,” she reports: “We are not disconnected from the situation at home.” Riera’s family also still live in Venezuela. She certifies her compatriots pure obsession with Trump and a possible election victory, as they hope for tabula rasa help against Maduro’s leadership. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” she says on the phone. Some of her compatriots and fanatical Trump supporters call themselves “Magazolanos”, a mixture of Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again”, or MAGA for short, and their origins.
As early as early summer, Republicans in the southern state had started advertising and bombarding Latinos with advertisements. Their message was simple but effective: the Democrats would be controlled by the left, would side with autocrats, and could bring the US to ruin. In Spanish-language television commercials, Biden was shown shaking hands with Maduro, smiling, a scene from 2015. This is followed by pictures of left-wing MPs Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Senator Bernie Sanders and Ché Guevara. Since former President Barack Obama met then Cuban President Raúl Castro in March 2016, the target area for the Democrats has been enormous.
At the same time, the Democrats tried to portray Trump himself as an autocrat who brutally suppressed demonstrators with the police and the army, as in the “Black Lives Matter” protests. “The power of the US president is total,” says Trump in a corresponding TV commercial before the names of Fidel, Chávez, Maduro and Trump flicker across the screen. Trump is a “caudillo”, a leader of the same kind as left autocrats, it says.
Obviously, that wasn’t the right strategy. In Miami-Dade, Florida’s constituency with the highest number of voters, Biden won by 7 percent. With Hillary Clinton it was 30 percent four years ago. “He had a great chance of winning Florida if he had bet on the right messages,” said Domingo Garcia, head of the largest Latino organization in the USA, shortly after the election.
For political scientist Riera, the Democrats failed in particular to win over the Puerto Ricans. They are very receptive to their messages. There was a lack of structured support, for example to register, apply for postal voting documents or get to the polling station.
Military intervention instead of negotiations
The case of Venezuelans in exile shows how much fearful messages tailored to certain groups of voters can get. In addition, the influence of false information on Venezuelans is great, says political scientist Riera. “I also get articles about QAnon from relatives in Venezuela,” she says. QAnon is the radical conspiracy cult whose followers believe that Trump has been chosen to destroy a child molester ring run by Democrats and the “elite”. Venezuelans in exile without friendships with white Americans find themselves in a vicious circle of learned distrust of institutions and democracy as well as frustration and desperation about the situation at home, said Riera. So they still hope that the president will stay in office. “They would like to see the Supreme Court declare Trump the winner, and then the military remove Maduro.”
86 percent of Venezuelans in exile support it according to a survey a military intervention to overthrow Maduro. Only 2 percent were in favor of negotiations. Fifty-five percent said Trump could bring democracy to Venezuela, compared with just 7 percent of Joe Biden’s. In any case, Venezuelans in exile are satisfied with the way the US has proceeded over the past two years. 64 percent even support the sanctions that affect the population and thus potentially their relatives. Around 80 percent consider Guaidó to be the rightful president, not Maduro.
Trump’s government is anything but friendly to Venezuelans. Around half of their asylum applications are rejected and the Republicans in Congress have blocked their temporary protection status in the USA, which would protect around 200,000 Venezuelans from deportation. From January to March pushed the US authorities exiled at least 100 Venezuelans via the third country Trinidad-Tobago, despite the government officially claiming not to do so because of the humanitarian situation. The Magazolans don’t care. They do not want to lose their hope that someone will end the misery in their homeland in one stroke.