MIAMI — Three months into Joe Biden’s presidency, enthusiasm for his predecessor is still going strong among Latino Republicans in Florida.
The South Florida-based Patriotas con Trump, or Patriots with Trump, has held multiple rallies outside Mar-a-Lago, members send messages all day in their WhatsApp group, and a smaller group of 10 meet regularly to brainstorm ways to recruit more members — and help get Republicans elected in 2022. They’re also looking ahead to 2024.
“We are Republican, but what we really like is what Trump promotes,” Laureano Chileuitt, the group's leader, said. A physician, Chileuitt practiced neurosurgery in his native Colombia until he came to the U.S. in 2001.
“That’s why we consider him our caudillo,” Chileuitt said, using the Spanish word for strongman. While the term has a negative connotation in the U.S., it doesn't for Chileuitt. “It just means he’s ‘the leader,’ like Uribe,” he said, referring to Álvaro Uribe, the right-wing former president of Colombia. “We are anti-globalization and anti-communism.”
Fueling such enthusiasm is the polarizing politics in Latin America, more options in conservative Spanish-language media, the presence of the Trump family in Florida and a state governor that remains a close ally of the former president.
Today, many in Miami still speak about Trump as often as they did when he was president. Like Patriotas con Trump, many small grassroots groups that sprung up during the election period are still active.
“Trump has not lost much support in this community,” Eduardo Gamarra, a Florida International University political scientist, said after conducting a poll for a private client.
Trump and Republicans made substantial gains among these groups in the 2020 election. The biggest shift toward Republicans was among non-Cuban and non-Puerto Rican Latinos, and that’s where a lot of the enthusiasm is concentrated now.
Latin America's heavy influence
Venezuela’s ongoing crisis, Nicaragua’s human rights situation, Argentina’s return to leftist populism, and Peru’s runoff elections, with a socialist leading in the polls, all influence Latinos here and sharpen their focus on Trump.
While few Latinos cite U.S. foreign policy when polled about voting preferences, Gamarra finds communities in Florida are being influenced by politics in their home countries.
Trump is viewed by his international supporters, especially in Latin America, as a key ally in the anti-Communist fight. And in a state where Latinos have a strong connection to family and friends back home, the nexus between Trump and supporters of the Latin American right is strengthening.
A glaring example is Colombia’s political polarization ahead of their upcoming presidential elections —scheduled for six months before the U.S. midterm elections — and its effect on Colombian-Americans in Florida. Amid the fragile and tenuous peace deal between the government and members of FARC, the country’s former Marxist rebel group, internal conflict grows. Leading in the polls is the leftist presidential candidate and former insurgent, Gustavo Petro.
“That is radicalizing the Colombian right. Colombians believe the next president will be pro-Chavez, which fits right into the narrative here,” Gamarra said. “Because Colombians are facing this more directly than other groups, they are driving the conservative momentum in Miami right now.”
Dominicans, though a small group in Florida, are also being affected by the politics in their home country. The country’s president recently announced plans to build a wall along the border with Haiti to help curb illegal immigration.
“There is a significant group of Dominicans who belong to social democratic parties back home, but are swayed by the conservative Trump-immigration policies,” Gamarra said.
While there is unity among the Latin American left, the right is less cohesive, but they do see Trump as a partner in combating socialism. It compliments the narrative that Republicans pushed in 2020 and are likely to continue hammering — that Democrats are veering too far to the left and will drive the U.S. to ruin.
Evangelicals and conservative media amplifies the movement
With social media and apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, the back and forth between relatives in Latin America and Florida flows uninterrupted. They share news articles, videos and memes. And prior to the November elections, they were a prime source of disinformation, something that persists, perhaps with less intensity though.
In addition to the politics, there is also a religious component among some of those who support Trump. Evangelical church leaders are playing a significant role in conservatism in Latin America and here. It’s evident in Facebook groups supporting Trump, where messages in Spanish striking a religious tone are common. In focus groups, evangelical Venezuelans say they believe Trump is “the chosen one” and “he was sent here — he is the direct voice of God," Gamarra said.
At least one former top adviser to Trump has tried to solidify the international right, including in Latin America. Steve Bannon has tried to put together a coalition of global like-minded politicians through his nationalist group, The Movement. Eduardo Bolsonaro, the lawmaker son of right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, joined Bannon’s group as its Latin America representative. At a dinner in 2020 with populist leaders from Europe and Latin America, Eduardo Verástegui, an actor who served as an adviser to the Trump White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, expressed intentions to run for president in Mexico.
At the same time, the pool of conservative news outlets and voices has grown in recent years. The Epoch Times Media Group, a news organization started two decades ago by practitioners of Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual practice persecuted by the Chinese government, now has a digital site in Spanish. Prior to the 2020 elections, the newspaper took a pro-Trump position and at times pushed conspiracy theories.
El American, a conservative news site geared toward Latinos, available in Spanish and English, has also emerged recently. Its editorial board states that the U.S. “is being burned down by moral relativism, postmodernism and Marxist ideas. We are in a cultural war, and we know how this war could end. Many of us fled Marxism. We know that if America falls, there is no other place on earth for Freedom.”
In Florida, veteran journalist Marian de la Fuente, who spent years as a news anchor on Telemundo (which is part of NBCUniversal, parent company of NBC News), now hosts a show on Miami’s America TeVé with a more conservative tone. The parent company of the network, America CV, is being criticized by Democrats for its intent to purchase Radio Caracol, an AM station. Democrats say Spanish-language media in Miami is dominated by Republicans, and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are pressing the Federal Communications Commission to reject the deal. They accuse America CV of wanting to turn the radio station to a right-leaning outlet after a former mayor and liberal voice of the station was fired.
Despite Latino Republicans' enthusiasm for the former president, some believe that while Trump will have a lasting impact on GOP politics and the culture he established, his influence will become weaker over time.
"Because a lot of Trumpism is not so much about policy, and it's not deeply substantive, it won't have the same power that some assume it will," former Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican, said.
"In the short term, this is definitely something that Republicans have to learn to deal with. Republicans will cater to some of those Trump themes and the support that still exists for him among his base," Curbelo said, adding that for some Latinos it's also a rejection of the shift to the left that they perceive from the Democratic Party.
Two years after Andreina Kissane co-founded the group Venezuelan-American Republican Alliance, or VARA, the focus is still around Trump.
She said that Biden offering Venezuelans temporary protected status was only an attempt to attract Venezuelans. “Trump continues to be the only solution for Venezuela’s problems,” she said, adding that those who support Biden are only thinking of “personal solutions without understanding the danger this constitutes.” She believes Biden is a "puppet of the agenda of the global reset and new world order."
Her group will meet next week for a panel discussion on the U.S. Constitution, religion and packing the U.S. Supreme Court, which she compared to what the Venezuelan socialist leader, Hugo Chávez, did with the courts while in power.
"All we can do is remain firm in our conviction and our love for God to save our nations," she said.
Chileuitt, with Patriotas con Trump, is expanding and creating an additional group with supporters from a retirement community. The Patriotas con Trump WhatsApp chats have drawn in members from as far as Latin America, Spain and Australia.
Referring to the Biden administration as "communists and anarchists," Chileuitt said that for security reasons he and others have put away the Trump flags and signs. "But people are still concerned over the future of this country."