Cuban Americans fear socialist dictators. So why are they backing the caudillo for president?

by Lizette Alvarez

Of all the reasons Cuban Americans in South Florida plan to vote for President Trump, the most head-scratching is the claim that, if elected, Democratic nominee Joe Biden will unleash a socialist tsunami upon the United States.

On one level, this concern is understandable. After all, many of these voters are in the United States precisely because they, or their forebears, fled the misery of the Castro regime — socialism at its very worst.

But nothing in Biden’s past even hints of a covert fascination with communism or socialism — unless you confuse expanding affordable health care and raising taxes for Marxism. As far as I can tell, no Democrat is looking to nationalize Coca-Cola. Even more astonishing is the fact that, for a people steeped in Fidel Castro and his legacy, so few Cuban Americans can actually see which candidate in the race resembles a Latin American dictator: President Trump.

I’ve seen this tension play out in my own family. My sister, Mariana, is among the nearly 60 percent of Cuban American registered voters who, according to a new poll, intend to vote for Trump. She worries that a Biden presidency will drag the country down the socialist path: Because “Biden is an old man with dementia,” she fears, he’ll quickly hand over power to a cadre of Reds led by Kamala D. Harris, Nancy Pelosi and compañero Bernie Sanders.

As far as clarion calls to get out the vote go, this is a hard one to beat. Like my sister, Nelson Diaz, the chairman of the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County, is ringing the warning alarms. “I’m not saying if in 2020 Biden wins we will have a communist dictatorship,” Diaz cautions. “But we will drift ever closer to socialism, and that tipping point will come quickly.” Biden’s socialist coup will begin, he explains, with the Internal Revenue Service: “They would take our businesses through an ever-increasing number of taxes.”

The only thing standing between us and this Orwellian nightmare, many Cuban Americans argue, is the president’s reelection. They view him as a patriotic family man who fights communist-style government corruption and speaks the truth. His Miami supporters bristle at any suggestion that he’s an authoritarian wrapped in an American flag, arguing that Trump is just doing what’s necessary to Make America Great Again.

On the other side of my family’s political spectrum, my brother Frank doesn’t have a lot of use for this confusing arroz con mango stance, as they say in Miami. He’s a 70-year-old Cuban armchair historian who supports Biden, and when I called to ask him about the Trump-as-anti-socialist-savior phenomenon, he laughed.

“You know, I keep a checklist.”

Chuckling, I took the bait. “What?”

He pulled up his “Dictator Checklist” on his desktop and started reading.

1. Wants military parades

2. Holds huge rallies for no reason

3. Is a narcissist who loves to see his name on buildings

4. Appoints family members to important government positions

5. Talks about jailing the press and his opponents

6. Dreams about being president for life

7. Keeps his finances a secret

 8. Enriches himself while in office

9. Suppresses the vote

10. Encourages militias

And on he went, delving into meatier topics such as ignoring subpoenas, indoctrinating followers and actually seeing himself as Superman.

My brother has a point — many more than 10. Rather than hold an “Anti-Communist Caravan for Freedom and Democracy,” as some Cubans and Venezuelans did in Miami recently, they should zero in on Trump’s dangerous erosion of democratic institutions designed to check and balance power.

Trump is head-butting American democracy in a way few believed possible. He has done almost nothing to help oust Nicolás Maduro, the socialist president of Venezuela. He has cozied up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, a career KGB officer, and Kim Jong Un, the communist dictator of North Korea. He did crack down on American visits to Cuba with the usual predictable result: no change on the island. (Trump also hedged his bets in 2008 when he applied to register his trademark in Cuba).

It is Trump’s authoritarianism at home and his affection for authoritarians abroad — not a Biden-led socialist takeover — that poses the existential threat to America’s prosperity and freedom. “A lot of Cubans have been here a hell of a long time, and we should know better than to think there is a socialist specter around every corner,” says Guillermo Grenier, chair of the department of global and sociocultural studies at Florida International University.

Still, Biden and his campaign shouldn’t be dismissive or complacent. The socialist red herring resonates beyond Miami, but it carries unique weight here. Cubans, Nicaraguans, Argentines and, most recently, Venezuelans have seen left-wing and right-wing strongmen up close. Memories of dictatorships — particularly socialist ones — influence their voting, and in Florida, as we know well, every single vote counts.

The Biden team can start by reminding Cuban exiles and their descendants of why they’re here: to preserve liberty and democracy, not undermine it.

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Lizette Alvarez is a journalist living in Miami.

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