“I’m a trompeta,” Castellanos said, using the Spanish word for trumpet. It’s common lingo among local Hispanic voters who plan to cast their ballot for US President Donald Trump in the November 3 election. “That’s why we’re here,” Castellanos added, referring to her life in the US. “I’m Cuban. We’re Cuban,” she said. But in the local community, “We’re American.”
There’s a reason Castellanos moved to the US from her native Cuba decades ago. She believes the US can protect her from the pitfalls of Cuba’s troubled economic and political past—and that Trump’s stance on issues like crime and trade will help.
Other first-generation Cuban Americans share this sentiment. “I come from a socialist country where people live very badly because of socialism.” said Dayalis Gallardo, a Cuban-born immigrant walking along Calle Ocho. “That’s my biggest fear and that’s why I would never vote for [former vice president Joe] Biden.”
Cuban Americans who fled from Castro and communism tend to care more about Trump’s stance on economic and social issues than, for instance, his derogatory comments about immigrants, says Eduardo Gamarra, a professor of international relations at Florida International University. This is also the case for more recent arrivals like Nicaraguans and Venezuelans, who suffered under authoritarian and socialist regimes.
For Alejandro Delgado, a Cuban-American voter who landed in south Florida after fleeing the Castro regime, the issue driving his vote is not the economy, Covid-19, or even immigration. It’s the perception that Biden’s vision amounts to communism. “We fled communism in Cuba. We don’t want to deal with that here,” Delgado said. “If we want to save ourselves from socialism and communism, we have to vote for Trump.”
In his research on Latin American demographics, Gamarra says he’s found that “when you give people the choice of law and order and more freedom, people always vote for law and order.” Republicans have linked the idea of disorder on the streets to communism, he adds. These voters feel that “if Biden wins, the country will turn communist.”
A hard line on Cuba and Venezuela
The same logic applies to Trump’s harder line toward the Cuban and Venezuelan governments. His tightening restrictions on the two regimes appeal to Cuban-American voters wary of political turmoil.
The harder line “hasn’t had an impact on Cuba, and the same [is true of] Venezuela,” Gamarra says.
In reality, US policy toward Venezuela has changed little since the George W. Bush administration, Gamarra says. And that isn’t likely to change after the election. “If Biden wins, or if Trump wins, there won’t be a significant change in the US Venezuela policy,” Gamarra adds.
What Trump’s policies have done is stoke anti-American rhetoric from the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes, which may help his efforts to woo Hispanic voters. In September, Venezuela’s Maduro, who has blamed the US government for domestic problems like rampant inflation and food shortages, told a group of government loyalists that Trump’s latest round of US sanctions “chop off [most] financing to our country” and deprive it of “the oxygen it requires to obtain food, medicine, supplies, [replacement] parts, and essential raw materials that are essential for economic activity.”
The conspiracy factor
While the origins of these messages aren’t known, there are concerns that they could have more sway with voters than paid ads on traditional media, since they circulate among trusted friends and relatives.
“Kennedy betrayed us in Bay of Pigs [Invasion in Cuba]. Are you still going to vote Democrat?” a billboard asks voters in Miami. “Trump: anti-science and anti-Dreamers,” says a picture that has been circulating on Facebook. “Under Trump, we drink chlorine. Under Biden, we will drink cafecito,” reads an image posted on Twitter.
“We come from political cultures where conspiracies have always been normal things,” Bolivian-born professor Gamarra says. Cuba’s Castro, Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, and Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz are just a few examples of Latin American leaders whose power hinged on conspiracies.
Those memories of hazy information in politics breed a sense that “there’s truth in every intrigue,” says Gamarra. But they could cut both ways with skittish Hispanic voters. In conversations along Miami’s Calle Ocho, Emilio Álvarez was one of few who identified as undecided, but leans Democrat. The Cuban-American immigrant said he was bothered by Trump’s loose relationship to truth.
It’s hard to believe that Trump has respect for the country’s highest office, said Álvarez, when he “says things that don’t have anything to do with facts.”
Written and reported by Rafael Romo in Atlanta. Reporting contributed by Ana María Mejía and José Manuel Rodríguez from Miami.