Latin America to U.S.: Tsk-Tsk

Brazilian President Lula da Silva at the U.N. Tuesday.

Brazilian President Lula da Silva at the U.N. Tuesday.

Miami is sometimes half-jokingly called “the capital of Latin America,” for its concentration of Latin American expats, Latin American corporation headquarters and even vacation homes for the region’s richest. No wonder then that both Senators John McCain and Barack Obama opted to outline their potential foreign policy towards the region while campaigning in Florida last week. Both candidates gave interviews to Radio Caracol that made headlines, each in its own way.

The highlight of McCain’s appearance was his apparent confusion as to Spain’s location and who its prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is [you can listen to it here.] A story on the incident in The Sydney Morning Herald was headlined “The brain in McCain under strain about Spain.” However, a campaign advisor denied there was any confusion, which can only hurt Spanish pride.

In respect to Latin America, McCain expressed coldness for the more anti-American leftist leaders in the region and support for Mexico’s Felipe Calderón in his war against drug cartels.

Obama, in turn, projected a more empathetic stance towards the region, admitting that the U.S. “has been so obsessed with Iraq that we haven’t spent time focused on the situation in Latin America.” He also seemed to defend his position on a potential meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who the McCain camp featured in an attack ad on Spanish-language TV this week:

I think it’s important for us to not overreact to Chavez. I think what we have to do is just let Chavez know that we don’t want him exporting anti-American sentiment and causing trouble in the region, but that we are interested in having a respectful dialogue with everybody in Latin America in terms of figuring out how we can improve the day to day lives of people.

Most people in Latin America would agree that the U.S. has not paid attention to the region so far this century. A lot of them, however, would probably view that as a good thing. Most Latin Americans consider the much-disliked free-market economic policies of the ’90s known as the Washington Consensus to have been forced on the region by the U.S. and the multilateral organizations on which it generally exerts commanding control, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. (more…)

A Heated Week: NY Times Chastises Candidates for Lying on Immigration

Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain have been going at each other’s throats in Spanish-language TV commercials on the issue of immigration. As we’ve reported through this week (here, here, here, here and here), the ads – and the candidate’s remarks to Latino audiences – were not always accurate or truthful — and the two candidates tend to talk about immigration only when speaking to Hispanics.

The New York Times has published a harsh editorial on the matter, in which it takes the two candidates to task for, “ignoring immigration,” and for, “lying about it to voters.”

The newspaper calls McCain’s charges that Obama helped kill immigration reform in the Senate, “a jaw-dropping distortion.” Then it calls Obama’s response, “just as fraudulent,” for portraying McCain as a friend of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s.

Then it goes on to say,

Immigration was broken before the candidates started this repugnant ad war, and looks as if it will stay that way for at least the duration of this campaign.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration keeps raiding factories and farms, terrorizing immigrant families while exposing horrific accounts of workplace abuses. Children toil in slaughterhouses; detainees languish in federal lockups, dying without decent medical care. Day laborers are harassed and robbed of wages. An ineffective border fence is behind schedule and millions over budget. Local enforcers drag citizens and legal residents into their nets, to the cheers of the Minutemen.

Both candidates once espoused smart, thoughtful positions for fixing the problem. But Mr. McCain is shuffling in step with his restrictionist party. Mr. Obama gave immigration one brief mention at the Democratic convention, in a litany of big-trouble issues, like abortion, guns and same-sex marriage, on which he seemed to say that the best Americans could hope for are small compromises and to agree to disagree.

The Mother of All Battleground States: Can Florida's Hispanics Help Obama?

After Sen. John McCain campaigned across Florida earlier this week, Sen. Barack Obama arrives in the Sunshine State tomorrow. Recent polls show Obama either tied or several points behind his Republican rival.

Florida is not only the mother of all battleground states, but it’s also one of four key states where the Hispanic vote could help decide the election. The others are Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico.

“Hispanics in Florida” has long been a synonym for Cubans. The state’s conservative Cuban-American vote has traditionally leaned Republican. But a recent poll by Florida-based Democratic pollster Bendixen & Associates puts Hispanics in the state, “about evenly divided,” between the two major candidates, according to Spanish newswire Agencia EFE. (In the other three “Latino battleground” states, Obama leads among Hispanics.)

This would seem to mirror the fact that Cubans are no longer a majority of Florida’s Hispanic voting population. Another Bendixen study says Cubans are 40 percent of the state’s 1.1 million Hispanic voters, while non-Cubans add up to 44 percent -this includes Dominicans, Colombians, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and people from other Latin American countries.

This diversification of the Latino population could give Obama some hope in a key state that has gone “red” in the last two presidential elections. Political scientist Luis Fraga of the University of Washington, an expert on Hispanic outreach in presidential elections, told the Austin American-Statesman that, “this growing Latino diversity and more second-generation Cubans — who vote Republican less consistently than their parents — combine to give Democrats a fighting chance in Florida,” Juan Castillo writes.

That’s probably one reason why McCain spoke at a Puerto Rican association in Orlando this week. The central Florida city has become a Puerto Rican stronghold over recent years -with many migrating there from New York and other places- and, again according to Bendixen, swing voters are a high percentage of this population.

This is how the Orlando Sentinel explained it:

Swing voters … are highly coveted this election because experts predict they will determine the presidential outcome in Florida, a key battleground.

In Central Florida, there are almost a quarter of a million swing voters, most of whom are Puerto Ricans or other Hispanics. Until now, they have remained a largely untapped resource. But both political campaigns are gearing up to target them during the next three months.

“There’s no more important voter in this media market than the Hispanic swing vote,” said pollster Sergio Bendixen, who prepared the most recent study on those Central Florida voters for Democracia USA, a group registering new Latino voters.

Latinos and Immigration: More Customized Messages From Senator McCain

As he campaigned across Florida this week, Sen. John McCain gave a Latino audience in Orlando a version of his stump speech that differed significantly from speeches he gave to other Florida audiences.

Speaking at a town hall meeting at the Asociación Borinqueña de Orlando, a Puerto Rican group, McCain told the audience that he would make immigration reform one of his, “first priorities,” if he is elected president.

But in another Florida appearance yesterday, in Jacksonville, the Republican candidate remained mum about the subject. Beth Reinhard and Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald report,

Once pummeled for backing what critics tarred as ”amnesty,” McCain has talked little about immigration during the general election campaign. He did not raise the issue Monday in Jacksonville, reliably Republican turf where he began a two-day tour that wraps up Tuesday in Tampa.

But Orlando offered a different audience. Central Florida is home to a fast-growing Hispanic community coveted for its political independence, unlike the staunchly Republican Cuban-American voters who have dominated Miami-Dade politics.

Earlier this week we reported on other instances where McCain has offered different messages on immigration policy depending on the composition of his audience.

The Obamas and Immigration: A Top Priority?

Not only does Sen. John McCain present his stance on immigration differently when talking to Spanish-language media (as we showed yesterday.)

So do the Obamas.

A few days ago, Michelle Obama was interviewed by one of the top Spanish-language radio hosts in the country, Eddie Piolín Sotelo, on his Piolín en la mañana show. Mrs. Obama had this to tell Sotelo about immigration reform:

This will be at the top of his agenda, you know, along with ending this war in Iraq responsibly.

At another point Mrs. Obama said, “We need the Latino community and we’re gonna do everything in our power,” to attract their votes.

But going back to Sen. Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the DNC a couple of weeks ago, one needs to look hard in the transcript to find that little nugget he dedicated to the issue of immigration.

“Passions may fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers.”

He referred to immigration as lowering American salaries, which clearly isn’t the way most Latinos see the issue. And then he didn’t address so many aspects of the issue. What about the undocumented people already here? What about the undocumented students who want to go to college? Driver’s licenses? The Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raids that have scared people across the country?

This week, as John McCain had done, Obama sat down for an interview with a Univision anchor; this time it was María Elena Salinas. (We haven’t found an English transcript of the original conversation, so this is our re-translation of the Spanish translation.)

Salinas asked Obama whether he would call for a stop to immigration enforcement raids, to which he replied that he considers the raids a publicity trick to try to shift people’s attention from the lack of immigration reform. Obama added that what is needed is comprehensive reform which provides strong border security and which punishes employers who take advantage of undocumented workers.

Again, nothing to write Mexico or El Salvador about. Many Latino voters may still be waiting to hear the candidates reconcile their statements to Spanish-language media with their speeches and comments to English-language audiences.


McCain and The Border Fence: Denial on Spanish-language TV

Just after the Republican National Convention ended, the party’s nominee Sen. John McCain sat down for an interview with a major American network. It wasn’t ABC, NBC or CBS: he was interviewed by Jorge Ramos, Univision‘s lead anchor and the host of the show Al Punto which focuses on politics. The network’s web site summed up the interview saying McCain, “skirted questions about his vote in favor of the border wall.”

In fact, McCain seemed to tell Ramos he did not vote for construction of the border fence between the U.S. and Mexico. (He did not finish the sentence twice, however.) [This video has been removed from YouTube.]
Here’s a transcript of the original exchange in English, as published by Univision:

Ramos: You voted for the construction of the wall between Mexico and the United States. However, the Mexican Government has just confirmed that every year, at least half a million Mexicans come to the United States. How exactly are you planning to secure that border? Every single minute there is an immigrant coming into the United States illegally.

McCain: I didn’t vote for, I am not sure what you are talking about, but we can secure…

Ramos: …about 700 miles.

I say we can secure our borders with walls and/or fences in urban areas, and then virtual fences, vehicle barriers

Ramos: But, you did vote for the wall.

McCain: I didn’t vote for an…, I don’t know what you are exactly, what you are referring to. What my plan was, and what our proposal was, that we secure our borders, and we can secure it, not necessarily with walls and fences. Although that is important in populated areas, in the deserts of Arizona vehicle barriers, cameras, and sensors, all of those things, can be used.

Did McCain vote for the wall or not?

On Sept. 28, 2006, when the Secure Fence Act was passed that approved the construction of the border barrier, McCain voted “Yea,” Senate records show.

After that, there were several votes related to appropriations for the project, but it appears that McCain did not vote again on the matter. (Here’s Project Vote Smart’s compilation of recent McCain votes on immigration-related bills.)

Once he began campaigning for the presidency, McCain’s stance on immigration shifted away from his co-sponsorship of comprehensive immigration reform with Sen. Ted Kennedy. Early this year, in a Meet The Press interview with the late Tim Russert he practically gave up on that effort. When Russert asked him whether he would sign such a bill into law as President, McCain said, “it isn’t gonna come, it isn’t gonna come. The lesson is, they want the border secured first.”

NPR’s Jennifer Ludden mapped McCain’s trajectory on the issue in this story last June: his position now is that, as President, he would have governors certify that the border is secure before taking other immigration-related measures.

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By the way, how’s that fence doing?

Not so well, The Washington Post reported this week: it’s unlikely that it will be completed on schedule, and construction costs are surging.

Barring action by Congress, “we’re out of money and operations will stop,” border protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham told the House Homeland Security Committee.