Billy Corben on Cuban-Americans and Right-Wing Extremism

Driving through Miami, you may pass the beach, alive with music and parties. You may notice the endless variety of restaurants; mom-and-pop shops full of culture and a savory aroma that you cannot miss.

If you take a drive through the Miami suburbs, there may be something else you notice. A handful of “Trump 2020” signs in a single yard and ten-foot-tall “Trump 2020” flags. You may witness families that scold their children on the dangers of communism; they’re talking about the Democrats.

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Photo by Dalton Caraway on Unsplash

As of 2019, 60% of the Cuban-American population lived in Florida with the majority living in South Florida counties Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade.

According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Cuban-American voters in 2020 are registered as Republicans. This contrasts the fact that it was Democratic policies that allowed Cuban immigrants easy access to the United States and citizenship. Specifically, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Cuban Adjustment Act in 1966 and the revision made by President Bill Clinton in 1995, commonly known as the “Wet Feet, Dry Feet” policy.

From a policy standpoint, there are more contradictions. For example, President Trump disapproves of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) put in place by former President Obama and hopes to have it repealed.

However, as of 2015, 15 counties in South Florida ranked number one in enrollment and beneficiaries of the ACA in the entire country. The zip code with the most enrollees in the entire country was in Hialeah, a primarily Cuban community.

“People vote with their pockets,” said Lorenzo Fuentes, 22, the treasurer for the Florida Atlantic University College Republicans club. Fuentes spent most of his life in Argentina but moved to America in 2017.

“This president makes you think, ‘I’m going to keep more of my money,’” said Fuentes. “The person that talks about raising taxes is the person that’s going to get less votes.”

President-elect Joe Biden’s current tax plan will not raise taxes for individuals who make less than $400,000 a year.

Billy Corben, 42 and South Florida native, has spent his career as a documentary filmmaker creating films about Miami history and culture. This October, he released his film 537 Votes which detailed the chaos of the 2000 election, between Al Gore and Bush, and what led up to it. Focusing primarily on how the events within the Cuban-American community of Miami shaped that election.

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“The Republicans learned early on to weaponize the Cuba issue. And the way to do that is with the ‘c-word,’ communists,” said Corben on why Cuban-Americans are so often right-wing thinkers. “It’s the tried and true tricks of the trade: demagoguery, propaganda, and red-baiting.”

Fuentes explained that Latino voters who favor the Democratic Party and social programs are forgetting part of their history. “They forget that they tried to do the same thing [in other countries] and it didn’t work,” he said.

Despite Fidel Castro’s claims of Marxism and association with the Communist Party, Cuba is not truly a communist or socialist nation according to those more familiar with these leftist movements. Socialism, which is an umbrella term that includes communism, is defined by the idea that all means of production and distribution would be regulated by the people, the laborers.

According to the Socialist Labor Party, “Workers in Cuba have not been given the opportunity to determine Cuba’s path to a socialist future. Instead, a bureaucratic ruling class has consolidated state power over the workers and usurped the organizations which supposedly give workers a voice in the decisions that affect their lives.”

Corben noted that Americans also look to Venezuela as an example of socialism when in reality it is a narco-kleptocracy. This is defined as a government ruled by an elite group who gained their wealth from the trade of drugs or other criminal activities.

“They don’t even know what [socialism] is,” said Corben on right-wing extremist voters. “For anyone to say that Joe Biden, who has a 47-year track record in public life, is a socialist you have to be gleefully ignorant.”

Pres. Trump and the GOP use the term communism and socialism against their Democratic opponents as well as derogatory and inflammatory rhetoric.

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Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

“They’ve never met a strong man that they didn’t like,” Corben said about right-wing extremist Cuban-Americans.

“There is this need for a sort of strict, father figure. Toxic masculinity, which they misconstrue as leadership qualities. It’s abusive, it’s an abusive relationship. They are victims in their own way. They see bluster, and insults, and threats of violence as leadership and power. But that’s not what leadership is. That’s not what politics is. That’s what fascism is,” said Corben.

Pres. Trump has minimized threats of violence on behalf of his supporters (like the Proud Boys and Bikers for Trump), he has asked governors to deploy the National Guard against peaceful protestors, and has even suggested judges be removed from the justice system. This may raise concerns for some, but to Cuban-American right-wing extremists, Pres. Trump is saying what they want to hear.

“You have a community that hails from a dictatorship, multiple dictatorships, who don’t really have much respect for constitutional norms or the rule of law. They are accustomed to coups. They are accustomed to stolen elections. They are accustomed to single state sources for information,” Corben said.

Corben explained that this history is what makes them so susceptible to the propaganda on Miami’s Spanish-speaking talk radio as well as Fox News, Facebook, and WhatsApp.

As President-elect Biden begins his efforts to unify the country, Corben notes how the Democratic party can begin to rebuild trust with those who voted for Pres. Trump.

“Identify the people that can be reached, that’s the first step…I don’t include, as a monolith, the Cuban-American community in that unreachable group,” said Corben.

He noted that while some people may be “too far gone,” there are also many who will change their mind when presented facts instead of misinformation. “If they can be manipulated with lies, they can be reasoned with truth,” he said.

Corben explained that Democrats need to have more of a presence within the community. “If Democrats were there on the ground telling them the truth, that would be one of the best ways to combat the lies,” he said.

Fuentes noted that one issue to moderate voters like himself is how Biden flip-flopped on some progressive issues which created a sense of distrust in what politicians say. “There should be a real leader…someone who isn’t scared to say something,” he said of the Democratic Party.

“They have to denounce any intention of socialism,” said Fuentes. He explained that Bernie Sanders’ past comments on Fidel Castro and Sanders’ involvement with the Biden campaign were counterproductive in gaining the Latino vote.

Corben hopes that the main lesson people learn from 537 Votes and this year’s election is, “Vote. Vote correctly. Then make sure your vote gets counted.”

Gillian is a student journalist at Florida Atlantic University. She is passionate about human rights and mental health. Twitter: @gillianmanning_

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