Campaigning in Florida this week, Newt Gingrich has vowed that if he is elected to the presidency, he will seek peaceful regime change in Havana. Tonight both he and Mitt Romney reiterated his call for working to overthrow of the regime.
But Gingrich has made Romney’s gaffe in 2007 an issue in the campaign. Gingrich has seized upon Romney’s misstatements on Cuban policy, made evident by McCain’s 2008 leaked opposition research file, in an ad on Spanish radio. During a March 2007 speech in Miami, Romney butchered the name of Cuban-American congressmen and disappointed a crowd of Cuban-Americans when he parroted Castro’s trademark slogan–“Patria o muerte, venceremos!” For decades Castro often ended his speeches with the phrase (“Fatherland or death, we shall overcome”).
Gingrich is running the following ad on Spanish TV and radio:
Newt Gingrich is a candidate who has committed himself to the Hispanic people, a Republican in the style of Ronald Reagan with experience. Unlike Mitt Romney, who goes around using Castro phrases, Newt Gingrich fought against the regime alongside Ileana and Lincoln to approve the Helms-Burton law. He supported the creation of Radio and TV Martí and is in favor of prosecuting the Castro brothers for bringing down the Brothers to the Rescue planes.
Romney’s campaign adviser in Florida, Alberto Martinez, pointed out that Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, prominent Cuban-American Republicans, support Romney.
Gingrich’s campaign in Florida, by contrast, is headed up by Jose Mallea, Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio’s former campaign manager. Earlier today Gingrich was endorsed by Miami broadcaster Carlos Perez, who was once Ronald Reagan’s adviser among the Cuban expat community.
Gingrich has had a longtime friend of dissidents in Cuba. In 1996, Gingrich called for increased sanctions against the communist regime, which he maneuvered through the House. “This bill says no one in Cuba and no one in the rest of the world should expect this embargo to be lifted until there is democracy in Cuba,” said Gingrich said in March 1996 according to The Congressional Quarterly.
At the time, Gingrich used the law to undercut support for Bill Clinton. He also supported lawsuits against third parties that acquired or “trafficked” in properties confiscated by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and which were once owned by American citizens or Cuban expatriates. Clinton delayed the law’s implementation, to disastrous political effect.
Gingrich assailed Clinton’s policy on Cuba at every other opportunity. For 35 years, Cuban refugees were granted permanent residency in the United States. But in the mid-90s, while up to 20,000 Cubans detained at Guantanamo Bay were allowed to enter the United States, new refugees were sent back to Cuba. Only those with strong political asylum claims were allowed to enter the United States.
Gingrich blasted Clinton for “collaborating” with the Castro regime. “Our strategy should be to maximize the speed of the collapse of the regime, not to find ways to normalize it and make it seem to be reasonable,” Gingrich said in May 1995. He had also attacked Clinton’s “moral compass” on Cuba in 1994, and called for Clinton to oust Castro with the same gusto that Clinton went into Haiti.
As tonight indicates, Romney, Gingrich, and Rick Santorum will make a play for Cuban’s influential Cuban voters, but they may have fewer Latinos receptive to their attention than at any time in American history. Republicans only added 7,093 Latinos to their ranks since 2008, while Democrats added 50,000.