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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

Around Marrero, as the caravan prepared to roll, drivers laid on their horns. Someone banged an egg beater against a plastic jar, mimicking the unmistakable sound of spoons banging against pots and pans, a familiar form of celebration in Hispanic communities. Daniela Ferrera, a 22-year-old activist and political organizer, nodded approvingly at the size of a pro-Biden event "in the heart of what is supposedly a ruby red Republican town."

Hialeah is a Republican bastion where more than half of the 240,000 residents are Cuban. It is a place where Democrats have repeatedly fallen well short of challenging conservative politicians and home to Miami-Dade Commissioner Steve Bovo, a pro-Trump county mayoral candidate whose father served in the unsuccessful CIA-backed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion that attempted to topple Fidel Castro's new Cuban government.

But Democrats sense an opening. The city has been among the worst hit in Florida by the coronavirus pandemic. Overhead shots of long lines formed in the city by out-of-work residents seeking unemployment benefits have made it into Biden campaign commercials. And the top five ZIP codes in the country for enrollment in the Obamacare marketplace are all located in western and northwestern Miami-Dade, including Hialeah.

Across from Bright Park, Yudisleidy Dominguez, Ofelia Iglesias and Geidy Montes de Oca ran outside a magenta house when they heard someone blaring music from a speaker mounted to the tailgate of a red SUV and shouted and waved their arms as if in support of the pro-Biden parade. But when all the cars had moved on, they told the Miami Herald they're wary of Biden and the Democrats, even if they're not completely sold on Trump.

"We're not in favor of everything Trump's done," said Montes de Oca, 33, who came to the U.S. from Cuba four years ago. "But many, many things are good."

Biden's ability to win Florida could hinge on his ability to win over more Cuban-American voters across the spectrum, including newer arrivals and Cuban Americans born in the U.S. Campaign strategists say older exiles who came to the U.S. decades ago are less likely to vote Democrat.


But even they were represented Saturday at Bright Park.

Sofia Venero, 78, said she's supporting Biden because of Trump's "racist policies." She said she doesn't buy into Trump's socialism rhetoric about Biden even though three years before she came to the U.S. in 1965 government soldiers shot her boyfriend publicly in in Matanzas. Asked if she's registered to a political party, she quickly stated: "Democrata, hasta la muerte" - Democrat until death.

A few cars over, Rosa Arias, a 63-year-old, Cuba-born Biden supporter, said she hopes Biden will stabilize the economy and fix America's healthcare system. She said she's been without employer-provided healthcare since leaving her position with a bank three years ago, and has been unable to afford Obamacare deductibles. But foremost on her mind, she said, is getting Trump out of office.

"I used to be middle class. Now I'm down at the bottom," she said. "I was born in Cuba under Castro, so I know what a dictator looks like. Donald Trump is on his way, and we have to stop him. "

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