Miami’s Spanish-Language Media Is Overrun With Trumpist Conspiracies
Right-wing Cuban Americans believe they’re fighting U.S. communism.
In the aftermath of the deadly overtake of the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, Spanish-language radio in Miami remained abuzz with conspiracy theories and unfounded election fraud claims. Blame for the outbreak of violence was largely aimed at the imagined presence of Black Lives Matter and antifa.
To be sure, there was a shared sense of shame that crossed party lines, with widespread condemnation of the destruction and the five deaths that resulted after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol to disrupt formal proceedings to certify election results in favor of President-elect Joe Biden.
But Trumpism remained firm among many supporters—including Cuban American voters who provided a boost for the Republican Party during the November 2020 presidential elections as well as those who traveled to Washington to take part in the pro-Trump rally that preceded the Capitol mayhem. The Cuban flag has been present at many pro-Trump rallies, and flags from other countries with a strong right-wing element among the American diaspora were present on Jan. 6 as well.
Social media influencers with large followings such as Cuban American YouTube celebrity Alexander Otaola argued there is a tendency among far-left liberals to “criminalize” Trumpism and warned “the opposition” that Democrats now have “absolute power,” which he characterized as “dangerous.”
Otaola told his followers that the United States has entered an era of censorship and pre-communism. Trump, like other Republican politicians, has promoted a hard-right, anti-socialist agenda that resonates with right-wing Cuban Americans. Coming from a country where speech critical of the government can mean jail time, the Facebook and Twitter bans against Trump, for example, are viewed as censorship. Issues such as universal health care feel like government takeover of private enterprise.
“It’s communism, it’s socialism, it’s everything that we don’t want in this country,” Otaola said on his YouTube broadcast “Hola! Ota-Ola,” urging viewers not to fall victim to the Trump defeat but rather refocus their energy to continue the battle.
“La democracia está en luto,” he said. “Democracy is in mourning.”
The grassroots group “Cubans for Trump” pinned a post on its Facebook page that cast Vice President Mike Pence as a traitor, reiterated claims that the election was manipulated, and vowed to continue to be loyal to Trump.
“In the aftermath of the ‘steal’ becoming certified in the House, Pence selling out to the Deep State and the March on DC Protests/Riots- one thing is absolutely certain. This page will continue it’s mission beyond the Trump presidency; where- ‘America Became Great Again,’” the post reads. “We will dispel the liberal lies of the left and expose their tactics (despite their attempts to silence our constitutionally protected rights). This platform will persist as a forum for conservatives and pro-Trump Patriots. … We will NOT embrace socialism or communism in any way, shape or form. … We will fight this good fight into 2021 and beyond!”
Carlos Odio, co-founder of EquisLabs, which specializes in public opinion polls in the Hispanic community, said he did not expect a major shift among Cuban American Trump supporters largely due to conservative media perspectives, which they rely on for information.
“The narratives are not specific to Cubans,” Odio said of those news sources. “There is an effort to calm people down and condemn violence, but then they pivot to, ‘Let me give you 100 reasons about why the election was stolen.’”
“There is a group of people who are very hardcore supporters of Trump and are in denial of what happened,” said Guennady Rodríguez, who immigrated to Miami from Cuba in 2013 and is the editor of a Spanish-language political blog and podcast called 23 y Flagler. “I think they are struggling with the reality that this was a coup attempt, agreed upon and totally terrifying.”
Yet Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of Latin American history at Florida International University, said the Cuban American community has never been fully united, even as it relates to the issue of U.S. policy toward Cuba, which Trump hardened during his tenure and promised to further restrict if he won a second term.
How the uprising in Washington might impact overall Cuban American support for the Republican Party remains unknown.
[To read FP’s ongoing coverage of the aftermath of the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, click here.]
“Where the community sentiment goes from here is hard to tell,” Bustamante said, adding that in some circles “anti-communism has been more important than democracy. There is a real lack of understanding about how U.S. democracy works.”
“I hope this started to turn the tide on more sensible voices,” he said. “Cuban Americans who have gotten in bed with Trump need to look in the mirror.”
“I’ve been in politics for five decades. I’ve never been as embarrassed and angry as I was on Wednesday [the day of the Capitol uprising],” Cuban American lawyer Al Cárdenas, a former Florida Republican Party chairman, said in a telephone interview. “We’ve been dealing with violent demonstrations for a year, in Seattle and Portland. The only way we can reverse this trend is to have serious consequences. There has to be repercussions. Hopefully, people have had enough and there will be investigations.”
His wife Ana Navarro-Cárdenas, a longtime Republican strategist, political commentator, and vocal Trump critic, said the fact that some Cuban American members of Congress voted in favor of decertifying Arizona’s and Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes—even as they condemned the violence—was heartbreaking.
“The more they accede to [Trump’s] demands, the more powerful they make him,” she said. “A lot of my Cuban American friends, Republican friends, stopped speaking to me when I called out Trump early on, so I don’t know where we go from here.”
Cuban American lawmakers also bear responsibility because they gave Trump legitimacy: “Trump enablers like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who know better, do not get to rewrite history,” Navarro-Cárdenas said.
Promises of tightened U.S. policy toward authoritarian regimes has done little to spur democratic change in the homelands of Latinos who voted for Trump.
“What Trump was doing was not getting freedom for Cuba, Venezuela, or Nicaragua,” said Rodríguez of 23 y Flagler. “He was punishing the people in power, but neither Cuba is free or Venezuela or Nicaragua.”
The Cuban exile community has witnessed 60 years of hard-line policy and two years of a softer approach under the Obama administration before Trump’s return to the hard line, with little effect, critics said.
“Twelve million people living on the island have not noticed a change,” Cárdenas said. “Their lives remain miserable. Regimes don’t bend to sanctions or threats.”
As the ongoing political chatter on Spanish-language outlets shows, the Cuban American community is contending with the disinformation prevalent across the United States: “Some in the media are inciting our folks with false information, inciting them to act in ways that are irresponsible as citizens,” Cárdenas said. “I think we need to figure out a way to repudiate those media opponents who are fanning the flames. It’s a tough situation.”
“Enough with the lies that the right-wing community is pushing,” said Carmen Peláez, a playwright and filmmaker who helped lead the Cubanos con Biden group in Miami during the election. “We need la verdad —truth and accountability. What we saw at the Capitol was horrifying. We cannot excuse what happened.”
It’s now up to political leaders to set an example.
“The silver lining is maybe we won’t take for granted as much the strength of the institutions and we will safeguard it more,” said Odio of EquisLabs.
“We need to have our leaders be grown-ups,” he said. “We need people to stop thinking about their r-election and their ambition and get us back to safeguarding our democracy.”