MIAMI — In his first visit to Miami in more than a year, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Monday attacked President Donald Trump’s hard-line policies in the Americas, saying his opponent’s tough talk and steep sanctions have only entrenched Cuba’s Communist government.
“The administration’s approach is not working. Cuba is no closer to democracy than it was four years ago,” the former vice president said from a mostly empty gymnasium at José Martí Park in Little Havana, the historic heart of Miami’s Cuban exile community. “There’s more political prisoners. The secret police are as brutal as ever. And Russia is once again a presence in Cuba and Havana.”
Biden also criticized Trump for failing to topple Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro and for refusing to grant undocumented exiles in the U.S. Temporary Protected Status from deportation back to a country suffering from crippling hyperinflation.
“Maduro, who I’ve met, is a dictator, plain and simple,” said Biden. “And he’s caused incredible suffering among the Venezuelan people to maintain his grip on power.”
Biden’s speech — delivered as a counter-punch to Trump’s relentless socialism-themed attacks on Democrats — came as he sought to reconnect with Miami’s Hispanic and Haitian-American voters, key blocs in the fight to win battleground Florida. Ahead of his visit to Little Havana, Biden briefly stopped in Little Haiti, where he avoided talk about foreign policy during a nine-minute speech but again criticized the Trump administration’s efforts in federal court to revoke Temporary Protected Status for Haitians.
“This is not the time to lift it,” Biden said of TPS from the courtyard of the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. “This is not the time to end it.”
Biden’s return to Miami — which included an NBC town hall at the Pérez Art Museum Miami — was his first visit since a stop in Little Havana in September of last year, before the coronavirus pandemic forced him to call off in-person campaigning just before the March 17 Florida presidential primary. His trip Monday came at a crucial time in the campaign, with around 5 million mail ballots in the hands of voters who have yet to cast them. Monday was also the final day to register to vote in Florida.
Polls continue to find a tight race in the state, with Biden and Trump jockeying for support in Miami-Dade County, Florida’s most populous metro area. A Bendixen & Amandi International poll released Monday found Trump continuing to over-perform his poor margins from 2016 in the region, but with Biden improving his standing among Hispanic voters amid an aggressive ad campaign.
“There are signs that Joe Biden’s amped up efforts cultivating Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County may be paying dividends,” Fernand Amandi, a Democratic pollster and political strategist, said in an interview.
In Little Havana Monday, Biden’s campaign gathered small business owners, essential workers and other Hispanic residents of South Florida to be part of the audience in the neighborhood gym. Former Second Lady Jill Biden spoke first, saying her husband will “make a nation whole” with love and “small acts of kindness.” She was introduced by Victoria Principe, a Venezuelan first-time voter from Weston, colloquially referred to as Westonzuela, for its sizable population of Venezuelans.
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Joe Biden spoke for about 30 minutes, standing in front of two large canvases made by local artist Laura Atria. He spoke about the impact of COVID-19 on Hispanic families working on the front lines but also highlighted the contributions of Latin American immigrants in the U.S.
“It’s families like yours and Esther’s that have made this country what it is ... and the hard work and faith and perseverance,” Biden said. “The richness and beauty of Miami is built from the connections of family, cultures, values that you share with our friends throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.”
Biden’s ability to win over more supporters in left-leaning Miami-Dade County could prove crucial to his ability to win Florida. In 2016, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won Miami-Dade County by 30 percentage points — equal to about 300,000 votes — but still lost Florida to Trump by about 112,000 ballots. Biden, according to the Oct. 1-4 poll of 600 likely voters, is ahead of Trump in Miami-Dade County by about 20 percentage points.
Those numbers are due in part to Trump’s persistent courtship of Miami’s 900,000 Hispanic voters as president, an effort that dates back to early 2017, when he rolled back much of the Obama-Biden Cuba policy. Late last month, before Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis knocked him from the campaign trail, the president held another Latinos for Trump roundtable, this one with Colombians, Puerto Ricans and Nicaraguans at Trump’s Doral golf resort.
On Monday, with a COVID-19 diagnosis leaving Trump isolated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland until he returned to the White House in the early evening, it was Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez who attacked Biden’s politics. Nuñez, co-chairwoman of the president’s Latinos for Trump coalition, ripped Biden’s plans to reinstate the Obama-Biden administration’s Cuba policies, which reopened diplomatic ties and loosened travel and business restrictions on the island.
“Biden has pledged to return to the failed policy of showering Cuba’s communist dictatorship with unilateral concession as he did after his tenure as vice president with [President Barack] Obama,” Nuñez said. “President Trump stands with the people of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, and on the side of democracy.”
But with Trump sidelined for most the day in Washington, Biden commanded South Florida’s attention. At the Pérez Art Museum Miami Biden criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, warning that the 210,000 people who have died could double if the country doesn’t get a handle on the pandemic.
“If nothing changes, we’re going to have another 200,000 dead in a year,” Biden said.
Earlier in the afternoon, in Little Haiti, Biden sought to make amends with Haitian voters, who have felt neglected as Biden seeks to woo Hispanic voters and after his running mate, Kamala Harris, failed to meet with Haitian-American leaders during a September roundtable discussion with Black leaders at Florida Memorial University.
Invited guests, which were intentionally kept small in number due to the COVID-19 pandemic, consisted of Haitian-American elected officials in Miami-Dade County as well as State Rep. Dotie Joseph, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, Dr. Larry Pierre and Dr. Jean-Philippe Austin and his wife Magalie. The Austins held a $35,800-a-plate 2011 fundraiser for President Barack Obama during his second presidential bid, and Austin and Pierre have also raised money for the Biden campaign.
Concerned about voter turnout among Haitian-American voters on Nov. 3, the Austins have organized a group independent of the campaign to promote voter engagement and outreach in the Haitian-American community.
As Biden spoke in the courtyard of the Little Haiti Cultural Center, Haitian-American voters lined up along two city blocks on Northeast Second Avenue and 59th Street hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Even without hearing him, however, some said they were ready to support his presidential bid.
“I’m happy for the visit,” Franklyn Charleston, 60, said amid the waving Biden-Harris posters and traditional Haitian horns playing carnival music, known as rara. “Since this government came into power, life here has just dropped. It was better with Obama and even better with [President Bill] Clinton. This president here has been a trouble-maker and we cannot just let the country go flat.”
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