This year Florida will elect a new senator, in a three-way race between the Democrat Kendrick Meek, the Independent Charlie Crist, and the Republican Marco Rubio. Chances are slim that Meek will win. This is usually attributed to Democratic voters voting for “anybody who can beat Rubio,” but there may be another factor that the pundits have missed.
It is the traditional Achilles heel of the Democrats: Softness on foreign policy. The one causing the dissatisfaction was not Meek, but president Obama, secretary of state Clinton, and Senate foreign relations committee chairman Kerry. And the constituency group that this particularly affects are the Latinos.
Keep in mind that Miami is a Latino city, predominantly. And that Miami is big enough to flip the vote in all of Florida one way or the other. And that Florida is big enough to flip the national vote of president one way or the other – but I’m sure nobody will ever forget that.
Obama did get a significant support by Latinos in 2008, but that support has completely dissipated by now. There may be several reasons, but it seems to me that one reason in particular has not been getting the attention it deserves: Obama’s Latin America policy.
The crucial issue is Honduras
Actually, Honduras is just the tip of the iceberg, the overall issue being the spread of communism in Latin America, which the Democrats seem to do nothing to stop. In fact, it appears to many as though they actually like this change. And that is a sure way to lose voters in Miami…
The different perspective does not come from a difference in world view, but in a difference in information. Latinos typically watch Spanish-language news, the biggest of which is of course Univisión. These networks cover Latin America closely, while English-language networks give about the same amount of coverage to Latin America as they give to Mozambique, or Mongolia, or the Moon for that matter. When it comes to foreign countries about 99% of their coverage has been devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan the last few years.
When the president of Honduras was deposed on June 28, 2009, it therefore came as lightning from a clear sky, for the English-speakers in the U.S. Naturally, they believed the network when they said it was a military coup. They had no reason to think otherwise. English-speaking Democrats either agreed with Obama’s policy, or thought he didn’t go far enough.
Latinos (and others who prefer Spanish-language news due to it having higher quality), on the other hand, knew that a severe political crisis was playing out in Honduras. They knew that the president was openly defying the Supreme Court, the popularly elected Congress, all other institutions of government, and that he was leading a mob against his own military. They had heard over and over that he was suspected of carrying out an auto-golpe, and they knew that he was ignoring the checks and balances of the constitution. They also knew that several other presidents in Latin America had done the same thing in recent years, and that nobody had stopped them: Chávez, Correa, Morales.
When Honduras stopped Zelaya, many, if not most, Latinos in Miami considered it an anti-coup rather than a coup. Honduras became “the little country that could.” Virtually overnight, Obama-stickers disappeared from almost all cars in Miami.
When it comes to Latin America, Washington is rather ignorant. It is clear that at least some of them believe the outrageous lies and spin, no matter how lunatic it really is, that is being prepared by Hugo Chávez and signed by Mel Zelaya. Perhaps they haven’t realized that Mel sold his soul to Chávez to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Or perhaps they don’t understand what Chávez is up to. Or else, perhaps they haven’t been able to come up with a counter-strategy, so they just stall for time. Who knows.
Meanwhile, unless Obama clearly changes policy visavi Honduras within the next two weeks, my prediction is that Miami will vote for Charlie Crist. Marco Rubio is probably too extreme for the majority (“miamians” may be fiscally conservative, but they are socially progressive), so in an effort to make sure that he won’t win, I figure that many Dems will vote for Crist.
If Obama’s present policy continues for two more years, chances are it will be his last in the White House.
What option does Obama have visavi Honduras? First and foremost, he must clearly distance himself from the outrageous lies that Zelaya is spreading. Secondly, he must make it clear that he understands that,
- the Supreme Court of Honduras had the legal authority to issue an arrest order for the president,
- there was due cause for the Supreme Court to issue that arrest warrant on June 26,
- that the military in Honduras is constitutionally authorized to carry out tasks only done by the police in most other nations (and that it was Zelaya who started using the military for police work on a systematic scale),
- that the expatriating of Zelaya was a crime, but that the expatriating of Zelaya does not in any way relieve Zelaya from responsibility for the crimes he carried out before being expatriated,
- that the behavior of the security forces during and after the expatriation of Zelaya has been the target of systematic demonization by a deliberately executed and very refined propaganda apparatus, directed by Venezuela’s ruler Hugo Chávez,
- that the interim president Micheletti did all that was in his power to maintain public order and security, and to safeguard human rights, in spite of an onslaught of attack by foreign agents, paid demonstrators, and vilification in international media,
- that the Attorney General did prosecute the military for the expatriation of Zelaya, and that the Supreme Court did take up the case, but dismissed charges, and
- that the Supreme Court of Justice, democratically and constitutionally selected, is the highest legal authority in the country, which means that their rulings are the final word in the matter, as regards the sovereign Republic of Honduras.
A speech to this effect would serve several important purposes: First, it would win back at least a part of the lost support among Latinos who don’t want to see communism take over their native countries. Second, it would assure Hondurans in Honduras that the world has not gone completely mad, and that the rule of law still is the principle upon which civilization is built. Third, it would send a message to president Ortega in Nicaragua that USA has not thrown in the towel to Chávez, so he better stop his plans for an auto-golpe.
Finally, and most importantly, it would set a firm base of law for negotiating a new social pact in Honduras. The spread of popular tyranny in Latin America can be stopped by making it clear that a “constituyente” (i.e., overthrowing the constitution and letting a few more or less self-appointed persons write a new one without democratic input) is totally unacceptable, and that stopping a constituyente by any legal means possible is not just acceptable, but the duty of all who have sworn an oath of office to defend the constitution.
Whatever Obama does, he has to evaluate the strategy carefully, as a seasoned chess player would. Unless he recognizes that Chávez is actively waging a cold war against him, he will stand no chance. Nor will the position of the United States of America in the World.