Republicans court a growing conservative voting bloc: Colombian Americans

By Carmen Sesin NBCnews

CORAL GABLES, Fla.—Months before the US midterm elections, a growing group of Florida voters have been mobilizing to vote in an election thousands of miles away, while Republicans see in them a chance to win voters in November.

Ada Duque, 45, is Colombian-American and recently visited the Colombian consulate in Miami to register to vote in her country’s presidential elections in May. Colombian Americans can vote in Colombia’s elections as long as they register.

[Demócratas y expertos advierten que la desinformación en español se intensifica]

Like two dozen other Colombian Americans NBC News spoke with, Duque said the reason he wanted to cast his ballot was simple.

“I don’t want Petro to win,” he said outside the consulate. “He will bring down the country, just like in Venezuela.”

Duque was referring to Gustavo Petro, the socialist candidate and former guerrilla leader who is leading the polls for the May 29 elections. Like many others NBC News spoke with, Duque said his family and friends in Colombia are preparing to flee the country if Petro wins the election.

“The Petro threat is mobilizing people for the Colombian elections and also for the midterm elections,” said Fabio Andrade, an aviation executive based in South Florida. Campaigning for both U.S. Republicans and Colombia’s right-wing Democratic Center party, Andrade uses a similar message: “Stop the socialist takeover.”

Although Colombian-Americans have traditionally voted Democrat, more than half of them voted for President Donald Trump in 2020, exit polls suggest.

[Las noticias falsas en español se intensifican entre los latinos en Florida y eso preocupa a los demócratas]

“Colombians have become the new Cubans”said Eduardo Gamarra, a political science professor at Florida International University, referring to Cuban-American voters, who traditionally vote Republican.

Gamarra, who is a Democrat, believes that since 2020 Colombian Americans have been moving toward the Republican Party due to polarization in their home country.

Adam Duke,
Adam Duke,Carmen Session / NBC News

“Today they are proportionally more conservative than Cuban-Americans,” said Gamarra, “because of the Petro factor.”

Growing numbers and influence

In a recent survey, more than 60% of Colombians in Florida said they US foreign policy was important or very important in your decision to vote for a candidate, more than any other group of voters surveyed. The survey also showed that Colombians are attentive to what is happening in their country of origin before deciding which candidate to support.

Florida has the highest concentration of Colombians in the United States. In 2020, about 275,000 eligible Colombian voters lived in Florida, up from 200,000 in 2015, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data. It’s enough to make a dent in a state where elections are usually won by slim margins.

[Trump ganó Florida tras publicar un anuncio falso que vinculaba a Biden con los socialistas venezolanos]

As a voting bloc, their political clout is growing, and parties are focused on reaching them directly.

Florida State Senator Annette Taddeo, a Democrat running for governor, grew up in Colombia. The most important position in the Biden administration in shaping US policy towards Latin America is occupied by Colombian-born Juan González, senior director of the National Security Council for the Western Hemisphere. Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Arizona, is Colombian-American and so is the director of Hispanic communications for the Republican National Committee, Jaime Florez.

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Fabio Andrade is a strong supporter of former presidents Trump and Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, both polarizing right-wing figures. And he has worked with the campaigns of Governor Ron DeSantis and the state’s two US senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, all Republicans, to mobilize the non-Cuban-American Hispanic vote in the state.

“In South Florida, most Colombian Americans are very conservative, very victims of war and conflict”Andrade said, adding that the vast majority vote for conservative parties in their home country.

[Desinformación y temor a un falso “socialismo”: la gasolina que impulsó el voto venezolano a favor de Trump]

Andrade accompanied Trump at campaign events in Florida ahead of the 2020 election and said members of the campaign called him on election night to congratulate him on the surge in Colombian voters that helped Republicans make gains in Florida. Two South Florida districts with significant Colombian populations traded congressional seats for Republicans. Biden won Miami-Dade County by just 9 points, a big drop from Hillary Clinton’s 30-point margin in 2016.

Traces of a long civil war

Florida saw an influx of middle- and upper-middle-class Colombians in the early 2000s, as violence and kidnappings swept through their country. The bloody conflict involved leftist guerrilla groups, right-wing paramilitaries, the military, and drug cartels.

The 52-year war killed an estimated 220,000 people and defined generations of Colombians, many of whom now live in the United States.

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In 2002, as Colombians poured into Florida, Uribe took office and stepped up the government’s offensive against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The United States was pumping billions of dollars to support the government.

Many Colombians credit Uribe with bringing the country back to some kind of normality after years of bombings, kidnappings and assassinations. And while Uribe’s popularity has waned in Colombia, many in Florida proudly call themselves ‘Uribistas.’ Critics say they only have a nostalgic view of Uribe and are not living the realities the country faces, such as corruption and rising poverty.

[Noticias Telemundo y Poynter lanzan un curso gratuito para ayudar a los hispanos a detectar desinformación y noticias falsas]

The country’s long-running conflict ended in 2016, when the government and the FARC, the largest rebel group, signed a peace deal widely backed by the international community, including then-President Barack Obama. The pact was praised worldwide and the then Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

But Colombians narrowly rejected the deal in a referendum and many Colombian-Americans in Florida are still against it. President Joe Biden removed the FARC from the list of foreign terrorist organizations since they disarmed and disbanded after the peace agreement. But much of Colombians in the United States have not supported Biden’s move, and the Florida House of Representatives recently passed a resolution rebuking it. Uribe is a staunch opponent of the peace agreement and has constantly criticized it.

Uribe’s popularity in Florida transcends other Latino groups. Two streets in Miami-Dade County are named after him. A term he popularized years ago, “Castro-Chavismo,” referring to Cuba’s communist leaders Fidel and Raúl Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, gained attention during the 2020 elections and was widely used by Latino Republicans in Florida.

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In 2020, the Trump campaign ran an ad on television and the Internet in Florida, claiming that Biden was the “Castro-Chavista candidate.” Andrade says the term exploded in popularity in Florida due to its widespread use on social media. And he predicts that it will continue to be used in the next elections in both countries.

“In Florida? Definitely. In South Florida? Bet your money on that,” Andrade said.

Democrats: break the “strong bond” of the extreme right

Others have a different perspective. Juan Pablo Salas, a Colombian political analyst and a Democrat based in Florida, believes that the Republican campaigns in Florida, starting in the 2018 midterm elections, were carried out based on what the Center-Democratic party, founded by Uribe, did previously in Colombia. and others.

“The tactics, including accusing opponents of being communists, socialists or Castrochavistas, were the tactics developed by the Center-Democratic party, together with those who were fighting against the peace accords,” Salas said.

[“Los votos valen”: cómo se ha vivido y qué cambia la reciente derrota electoral del chavismo en Barinas, Venezuela]

“I see a strong link between Bogotá, Miami and Washington with the extreme right of the Republican Party,” Salas said. “There is synergy between both campaigns, the Center-Democratic party and the Republican campaign.”

Salas and other Colombian Democrats were outraged ahead of the 2020 election when some Colombian elected officials, including Colombian senators María Fernanda Cabal and Carlos Felipe Mejía, began backing Republican candidates in the United States. Uribe also supported them.

“There is interference,” Salas said. “And Colombia has become very important in that sense, because the Colombian vote is capable of pushing other votes.”

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In South Florida, elected officials have not refrained from courting the Colombian-American voters who helped get them elected. At a recent roundtable, Andrade and Colombian community leaders met with Florida Republicans, including Scott, and Representatives María Elvira Salazar and Carlos Giménez, expressing their displeasure with Petro and criticizing Biden for removing the FARC from the list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Evelyn Pérez Verdía, a Colombian-American Democratic strategist based in Florida, said that Republicans in that state make it look as if Colombian voters only have two options: Petro on the left or their preferred Center-Democratic candidate, Óscar Iván Zuluaga. , on the right. But there are 21 candidates competing in the primary elections.

[Extraditan a EE.UU. a un aliado clave de Maduro acusado de lavar dinero]

“The moderate candidates have to come to the United States and share their vision of Colombia and break the view that there are only two candidates”said Perez Verde.

“The Republicans are reaching the same voters with the same message: voting for a Republican here is the same as voting for the right in Colombia, and voting for a Democrat is like voting for Petro, which couldn’t be further from the truth. “, said. “They kill two birds with one stone.”

Pérez Verdía said Democrats cannot take Colombian Americans for granted and need to show them, using their language and culture, that they are just as important as Cuban American or Puerto Rican voters.

Guillermo Garcia and his wife, Eugenia.
Guillermo Garcia and his wife, Eugenia.Carmen Session / NBC News

“That is what I did in 2020 in Weston” – a city in South Florida with a large Colombian population – Pérez Verdía said, adding that Biden won Weston “even though there was also a Latinos for Trump center in Weston. ”.

He also said that countering disinformation is paramount, as in 2020 there was an avalanche of disinformation coming from Colombia.

Outside the Colombian consulate recently, Guillermo Garcia, 52, and his wife Eugenia lined up with other Colombian Americans who were registering to vote.

[Los colombianos le dijeron NO al acuerdo de paz con las FARC]

“I only vote for the right,” said Eugenia, referring to the elections in Colombia and here.

Garcia, an investor, agreed, saying he likes “law and order, family values ​​and security.”

He said that if Petro wins in Colombia, “maybe things will be worse than in Venezuela because we have a history of violence in the country.”

When asked about the midterm elections in the United States, Ada Duque said that she will vote for the Republicans. But for now, she said, her attention is focused on voting against Petro.

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Republicans court a growing conservative voting bloc: Colombian Americans