Saturday, January 20, 2018
Politics

Connie Mack talks 'thugocrats,' touts top congressional support in Hialeah

HIALEAH — Bashing the "thugocrats" in Venezuela and Cuba, U.S. Senate candidate Connie Mack touted the support of Miami-Dade's Cuban-American congressional representatives Monday in a speech that highlighted his foreign-policy chops.

Mack, a Republican, Fort Myers congressman and House Committee on Foreign Affairs member, suggested the Obama administration wasn't backing its allies as Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez expands his influence in Latin America.

"We can no longer have a government that tends to side with our enemies and turns our back on our allies," Mack said.

U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, David Rivera and Mario Diaz-Balart echoed the sentiment when they officially endorsed Mack at Chico's Restaurant in Hialeah. Also in support: former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

The support of the four Miami-Dade powerbrokers is crucial in the state's largest Republican county, where nearly two-thirds of the registered Republicans are Hispanic.

Mack, leading in the polls, faces former Sen. George LeMieux and businessman Mike McCalister in the Republican primary. They seek to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, whom Mack often describes as a "lockstep liberal" for his support of Obama's policies.

Mack and his fellow representatives largely eschewed talking about Nelson on Monday and instead concentrated on Chavez and Fidel Castro, whom Mack called "thugocrats."

In a sign of Chavez strength and the waning of Castro's regime, the Republicans spent more time talking about Venezuela's leader than Castro. They also touched on the left-leaning administrations of Bolivia's Juan Evo Morales Ayma, Nicaragua's José Daniel Ortega Saavedra and former Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart credited Mack with raising concerns in Congress about Zelaya. Zelaya was ousted in a 2009 military coup because he defied the Honduran high court. He had planned to host a referendum that was ultimately aimed at giving him more time in office.

Obama, at the time, opposed the ouster of Zelaya by the military but suggested the U.S. opposed the Honduran government's policies.

Mack vocally opposed Zelaya's return, visited Honduras and sponsored a congressional resolution that effectively supported the coup.

"Because of him, Congress coalesced," Diaz-Balart said. "And because of him, and because of the heroic people of Honduras, that democracy was able to survive."

Diaz-Balart also suggested Obama joined with Castro and Chavez in helping "put an anti-American dictator in Honduras." But Zelaya was actually elected two years before Obama won the U.S. presidency.

Mack spent relatively little time talking specifics about his foreign policy positions and instead lauded the score of supporters — members of Miami's Cuban exile community.

"I would challenge anyone to come to Hialeah and talk about freedom," Mack said. "When people talk with you about what it means to be free, you're not talking from a textbook. You're talking about a life experience."

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