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Trump and the Latin American Left: Strange Bedfellows

By Gabriel Andrade
3 Oct 2016

Back in July, during the Republican National Convention, some strange images circulated on the internet. Some tough-looking, blue eyed, blond cowboys, held signs with the curious phrase, “Latinos para Trump.” Obviously, something was not right about these pictures. Although Latinos are an ethnicity and not a race, and there are plenty of blue-eyed, blond Latinos, those holding the signs just didn’t look like the conventional Latino one would expect to find in the United States.

Furthermore, although the phrase “Latinos para Trump” is not grammatically incorrect in Spanish, it is too much of an inadequate literal translation of “Latinos for Trump.” A more appropriate sign in Spanish would be “Latinos con Trump”, or “Latinos por Trump.” This raised the suspicion that those alleged Latinos were in fact WASPs passing as Hispanics, in order to make the dubious claim that Latino support for Trump is strong.

Now, why would a Latino voter ever support a presidential candidate that insults immigrants, accuses them of being rapists, wants to enforce massive deportations, and absurdly pretends to build a wall over the border with Mexico? Oppression can be so intense, that it may actually lead to a high degree of self-hatred and alienation. Some Jews supported Nazism, some battered women return to their husbands and claim they love them, some African Americans slaves sided with their white masters. This may very well also apply to some of the Latino support for Trump.

Take, for example, the case of Marcos Gutierrez, founder of Latinos For Trump. On MSNBC he claimed:My culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” This is as absurd (and as unfortunate) as it gets. It is almost taken out of a caricature (and indeed, the reactions to Gutierrez’s unfortunate remarks were quite humorous and sarcastic).

But, politics make strange bedfellows. And Donald Trump may actually have some (perhaps secret) sympathizers amongst more serious, sober Latinos. Of all people, the Latin American left may actually side with him on some important issues. Trump is typically considered a far-right populist, almost a fascist, and that may very well be true. But, for some Latin American leftists, he may be the lesser evil, although for obvious ideological reasons, Latin America leftist leaders will never admit to it.

One of the major agendas in the Latin American left has always been resistance against American imperialism. That was Sandino, Castro, Guevara, Allende and Chavez’s struggle. Some U.S. presidents may have been very progressive in domestic affairs, but when it came to Latin America, basically all of them (going back to the times of the Monroe doctrine), have considered Latin America their own backyard. Woodrow Wilson, an emblem of progressivism, had no qualms about saying “I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men.” The result: a long series of military and political interventions violating Latin American nations’ sovereignty. Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was overthrown back in 2009. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have been behind that operation, or at least, she did not do enough to restore Zelaya, and actually supported the new de facto government.

Now, Donald Trump is a major flip-flopper, and we should not trust him wholeheartedly. But, he has shown some isolationist leanings. And, although he is extremely ambiguous when it comes to bombing ISIS positions (including civilians), he apparently has no intentions to mingle in Latin American affairs. It seems that his main interest is to build the wall, and that everybody sticks to their side of the border. Latin American leftists have long hoped for American isolationism, and in that sense, they may very well see Trump as the lesser evil.

There is also the issue of free trade. Back in 1994, Subcomandante Marcos launched his Zapatista guerrilla movement, explicitly arguing that it was an affront against NAFTA. Which American candidate supports NAFTA and which one condemns it? Clinton’s position is ambiguous, but Trump’s is manifestly clear: he wants out. Would a left-wing Mexican guerrilla support a racist American millionaire that insults Mexicans? Perhaps not, but again, politics make strange bedfellows if it comes to sharing goals.

Lastly, Russia’s role is also relevant in this regard. Putin and Trump make no apologies about their mutual love. Post-Soviet Russia is far from being a socialist country. But, in the Latin American Left, Putin has increasingly been seen as a sort of guardian big brother. Latin American Leftist leaders have seen in Putin the opportunity for a multi-polar world, and have voted in the UN in favor of Russia when dealing with the annexation of Crimea. Russia has extended military cooperation with Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela (all three nations ruled by leftist governments). Furthermore, no Latin American leftist will sympathize with NATO; Trump has explicitly vowed to ignore NATO if Russia attacks the Baltic countries, and in fact, he may even hope for the total disintegration of that organization.

It does not always work that way, but my enemy’s enemy may be my friend, and my friend’s friend may also be my friend. During the last few years, there have been strange bedfellows in the political affairs of various countries: Leftist Syriza worked together with the far-right Independent Greeks; there was some leftist support for Brexit; and Marine LePen may get support from French Communists who want to uphold laicité.

Ideally, Latin American leftists would be much more comfortable with someone like Bernie Sanders. But, some of them may feel that, in the upcoming elections, Trump is the lesser evil. Would they be right to think so? Probably not. But, many of their concerns are quite legitimate. And, were they to adopt a consequentialist ethical stand, then they may well consider that, perhaps, preferring the racist pig over the liberal hawk is the right option, taking into account the issues that guide their agendas.

Gabriel is a professor at Universidad del Zulia, Venezuela. He has written books on Darwin, the existence of God, the afterlife, and postmodernism.
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