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'We're not gonna be manipulated.' Cracks form in Trump's Cuban-American base

By David Smiley, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI - From the passenger seat of a Mercedes-Benz idling in the heart of America's Cuban exile community, George Marrero explained Saturday why he would not vote again for President Donald Trump.

"This country has been abused for the last four years," the retired Coral Gables police officer said while waiting for the start of a Cubanos con Biden caravan in the majority-Cuban city of Hialeah. "(Democratic presidential nominee) Joe Biden is going to bring back - like he's said - the soul of America. It's been lost."

Amid evidence that Trump has significantly expanded his support among Miami-Dade's traditionally conservative Cuban exile community, a counter-movement is afoot to show that there are thousands of Cuban-Americans in Florida who believe the president does not have their best interests at heart.

Prominent exiles like former Republican Party of Florida chairman Al Cardenas have criticized Trump's authoritarian streak. Last week, Luis Santeiro, the Cuban-American head writer of the ground-breaking 1970s Spanglish TV sitcom "¿Que Pasa, USA?" warned in a Miami Herald opinion piece that "when we label someone we disagree with a communist, a fidelista or a reactionary, we only echo the intransigence of the regime we fled."

And while Republican Cubans continue to maintain the strongest presence in Miami's influential Spanish-language media and its political hierarchy, Democratic activists are organizing events like Saturday's pro-Biden caravan from Hialeah to Little Havana to give a voice to those whose views differ from the majority.

"Traditionally, the Cuban community has gone Republican. And hats off to the Trump campaign, they've done a great job stoking the fears of socialism and communism in our community," Mike Rivero, one of the organizers of Saturday's caravan, said in an interview. "Enough is enough. We're not gonna be manipulated."


Saturday's gathering, which the 30-year-old Rivero said drew about 200 vehicles, was among several pro-Biden events in Miami this weekend. Other caravans - the mass political gathering of choice amid the coronavirus pandemic - showcased Biden's support from Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and Puerto Ricans, all crucial segments of the non-Cuban Hispanic voter coalition Biden needs to build to beat Trump in Florida.

Trump's support among Cuban-Americans is bigger and more vocal. Massive pro-Trump political parades began months ago and continued Sunday with another caravan, also in Hialeah. Trump has also repeatedly made overtures to Miami's exile communities, visiting often to talk about squashing socialism and to bash the Obama-Biden administration's Cuba policies. Currently, the president is considering Cuban American judge Barbara Lagoa as his nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

But while few expect Biden to win the Cuban vote in Florida, strategists believe he must compete with Trump to win over more Cuban-Americans like Marrero, who told the Miami Herald he registered as a Democrat for the first time this year after previously registering Republican or without party affiliation.

"There's a mentality that all Cubans or Latins are Republican. But there's a lot who are not," said the retired cop, riding in a sedan festooned with Biden placards and a sign in memory of Ginsburg. "I voted for Trump in '16 because I didn't like Hillary Clinton and the policies that were there. Shortly after this guy got into office, his true self came out."


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