Newt vs. Mitt: Uncle Sam’s Manifest Destiny Wins Votes in Florida

In a bid to secure the Cuban and Venezuelan expat vote in Florida last week, Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich managed to conjure up the kind of anti-leftist propaganda that wouldn’t have been out of place in one of Ronald Reagan’s anti-Soviet Union speeches.

For the benefit of Florida’s staunch anti-Castro lobby, multi-millionaire Romney and Time’s Man of the Year “Newt” Gingrich managed to engage in one of the most unashamed populist manoeuvres that the campaign has seen so far.

Speaking from the presidential debates in South Florida, Romney began by denouncing former Cuban President Fidel Castro and current Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s influence in the Latin American region as “a true threat for our continent” and stated that he would “punish those who are following” these two leaders should he become president.

Not to be outdone in the Cold War mentality stakes, Gingrich countered with a gem of his own, stating that the Obama administration had been “embarrassed by Chavez” and that the U.S. government “must” implement a non-military strategy to force the leftist president from office. Following this brazen incitation of a policy of interventionism against a democratically elected government, good old Newt then spent the rest of the week schmoozing with Cuban hardliners, complete with an “Operation Mongoose Cuban Readiness Force” cap, before making a whistle stop tour of Florida International University in the hope of sealing the deal.

Paying homage to Cold War veterans Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, combined with the unusual choice of Pope John Paul II, the presidential hopeful gave an insight into what would be in store for Latin America under a Republican government: “You look at how the three of them brought moral pressure, psychological pressure, information pressure, economic pressure, covert assistance. Things like solidarity were being propped (up) by lots of sources” he said.

Veering away from direct military intervention and charitably embracing “democracy promotion” abroad, Gingrich openly suggested that the U.S. should engineer a “Cuban spring” to oust the “Castro brothers”, before turning his line of fire once again towards Venezuela’s Chavez.

“I think we need to say calmly and pleasantly to Chávez. We know who you are. We believe what you say. And therefore we regard you as a mortal enemy of the United States”.

Interestingly, Gingrich doesn’t have any concrete suggestions per se which could reveal what a Republican government’s foreign policy might actually look like in reality, and aside from his innovative suggestion to establish a permanent U.S. colony on the moon, he is running his political campaign in Florida based solely on his intense hatred for the “satanic communism” of Cuba and now Venezuela.

Yet the lack of a coherent political programme doesn’t seem to have caused him many setbacks in Florida. Indeed, it seems that whipping up as many attacks as possible against the Latin American “reds” has proved to be a winning, if not original, tactic.

Obama’s “Soft” Approach                  

With official rhetoric now being the only thing differentiating Obama’s foreign policy from that of the Republicans, it appears that the latter’s strategy is to ramp up anti-socialist propaganda to the max whilst depicting the current president as some kind of U.S version of John Lennon. The result being somewhat akin to the kind of paranoid jingoism that you would expect to hear at a U.S. Patriot’s Meeting chaired by Glenn Beck. It is surely now only a matter of time before we hear Romney claiming that “Castro eats babies” whilst flaunting a copy of the Monroe Doctrine.

Yet, despite the softly softly approach which Obama’s rivals accuse him of, the U.S. president’s foreign policy in Latin America has been even more intrusive than his predecessor. In short, he may not talk the Republicans’ talk, but he can certainly walk the walk. Promising a “new direction” during his presidential campaign, many voters had high hopes for a Jimmy Carter-style non-interventionist approach abroad, with at least a minimal degree of respect for human rights.

In reality, Obama’s stance towards Latin America has been business as usual. It is of course markets, access to cheap natural resources and preserving U.S. hegemony that make American foreign policy go round, not trivial things like respect for national sovereignty or democracy, which are useless concepts once you have succeeded in shoring up the Liberal vote.

In the past 5 years, the Obama administration has; given its blessing to the Lobo government in Honduras following the ousting of President Manual Zelaya in 2009, even though elections were reportedly fraudulent, blocked any initiative to address the crisis in Honduras from a regional perspective within the OAS, turned a blind eye to state repression in both Honduras and Colombia, implemented sanctions against Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, expelled the Venezuelan consul in Miami, channelled millions of dollars in “aid” to opposition groups in Venezuela and Cuba, stepped up its military presence in Colombia with 7 new military bases and continued to perpetrate grave human rights abuses against the Colombian populace through the maintenance of the U.S’s now totally discredited “War on Drugs”.

Yet, however misleading Gingrich’s and Romney’s analysis of Obama might be, and however ridiculous their pronouncements on Latin America might seem, they unfortunately cannot be dismissed as the ravings of a small fringe group: the Miami anti-Castro lobby has influence, influence which it has used on more than one occasion to try and shape U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration.

Members of Florida’s hard right have played highly significant roles in some of Obama’s most controversial foreign policy decisions, particularly Cuban-American House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Republican, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Ros-Lehtinen is a staunch anti-Castro activist and also belongs to both the Cuban-American Lobby and the Congressional Cuban Democracy Caucus – organisations aimed at speeding up Cuba’s “transition to democracy” by any means.

Not only did Ros-Lehtinen meet with the Micheletti led Honduran de-facto government following the coup in 2009 and offer support for the illegitimate regime, but she also put pressure on Obama to recognise Micheletti whilst accusing the president of adopting a “myopic, Zelaya-centric approach” to the coup. Ros-Lehtinen was also one of the four congressmen to send a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December 2011, recommending the removal of the Venezuelan consul in Miami in reference to unsubstantiated accusations made against the diplomat in an Univision documentary in 2008. The State Department happily obliged earlier this month.

Fellow Republican and member of the Congressional Cuban Democracy Caucus, Connie Mack, has also played a decisive role in the government’s position towards the Chavez government. The Florida representative has consistently demanded that Venezuela be placed on the U.S. “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list, and was influential in engineering the Obama administrations’ sanctions against PDVSA in 2011. In March last year, Mack also called on the U.S. government to “put an end” to the Chavez administration.

Whilst Obama pays lip service to democracy while simultaneously throwing millions of dollars at the Venezuelan opposition, it seems that the Republicans’ only strategy is to slip back into a McCarthyist time warp.

Evidently neither of the two Republican candidates is capable of constructing a political programme which can respond to some of the profound transformations currently sweeping the Latin American continent and prefer to resort to a campaign based on naked oppression and threats of interventionism which are more reminiscent of the Monroe Doctrine. With typical arrogance, these Cold War dinosaurs have failed to realise the magnitude of the changes taking place just South of the Border, which has moved on from 1989 to an era where the creation of Latin American unity and 21st century socialism represents the new regional political paradigm.