There’s a new demographic order.
With 40 percent more eligible Latino voters today than in 2008, anyone who wants to be our next president better woo this growing segment of our electorate as hard as they can — especially in purple states like Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Ohio and Virginia. So what’s up with this year’s contenders?
Donald Trump, as everyone knows, has spent the better part of his campaign demonizing this treasure trove of voters. His promises to “build a wall” to separate the US from its southern neighbors and questioning an Indiana-born federal judge’s impartiality because his parents came here from Mexico isn’t merely offensive. When 87 percent of Latino voters already despise The Donald, it’s bad politics.
Hispandering taco bowl tweets, by the way, don’t count. They just make things worse, if that’s even possible.
Still, Democrats can’t bank on Trump’s xenophobia to turn this bloc into enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporters now that she is, like Trump, her party’s de facto nominee. Her embrace of immigration rights is fairly recent and her record on Latin America, where instability can translate into US-bound migration, is too hawkish.
Consider: In 2003, she was “adamantly against illegal immigrants.” Four years later, she asserted: “As president, I will not support driver’s licenses for undocumented people.” More recently, she supported the Obama administration’s policy of sending unaccompanied children who might qualify for refugee status back to the violent situations they had fled in Central America.
Clinton appears to have moved on. She now casts herself as a fierce defender of immigrant rights and calls for “a path to full and equal citizenship.” She also boasted during the primaries about her devotion to President Barack Obama and her time in his Cabinet. That may or may not help her with Latinos who, along with Asian-Americans, are increasingly gravitating toward the Democratic Party but historically are less apt to show up at the polls than other folks.
Obama does deserve credit for shielding hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation and trying to expand the number of undocumented people getting relief with a similar effort that got tied up in the courts. However, Obama also kicked out of the country a record 2.5 million less-fortunate undocumented people, leading National Council of La Raza chief Janet Murguía and other Latino leaders to dub him the “deporter-in-chief.”
The president’s record on Latin America is similarly checkered. Although he expressed remorse for the US government’s role in Argentina’s dirty war that killed tens of thousands of people in the 1970s, his administration — which included then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — shrugged when elected Paraguayan and Honduran leaders were illegitimately ousted. Obama did re-open the US embassy in Havana and try to shut the Guantánamo prison. But he failed, A Trump would say, to close that last deal. More recently, Obama has remained silent since Brazilian lawmakers jettisoned President Dilma Rousseff from power — in a maneuver that may constitute the region’s third “soft coup” on his watch.
Unlike with immigration, where Clinton has trumpeted her intention to move to her former boss’s left, she hasn’t renounced her record on Latin America and the Caribbean. (For details about that legacy, read Greg Grandin’s detailed account in The Nation and Lee Fang’s coverage in The Intercept of Clinton’s emails about Honduras).
When Clinton gave a foreign-policy speech days after Brazil’s minister tasked with fighting corruption resigned because he seemed eager to cover up wrongdoing, she ignored Brazil’s political crisis and the upheaval in Venezuela and Central America. Instead, she appealed to centrists and #NeverTrump Republicans by promising to be tough without being a jerk.
Apart from observing that Mexico is a US ally, what did she say in her foreign-policy speech about Latin America? Nada.
So far during her campaign, Clinton has actually managed to say less than nothing about Latin America. She accomplished this in part by deleting passages about the region from her memoir’s paperback edition. The recollections scrubbed from Hard Choices include laments about Colombian human rights abuses and the “you go girl” euphoria she experienced while witnessing Rousseff being sworn in as Brazil’s first female president. Also gone: the part about prodding nations throughout the Americas to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade and investment deal both Trump and Bernie Sanders vehemently oppose and that Clinton says she no longer supports.
Perhaps most alarmingly, she snipped two pages on Honduras, including this sentence: “We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of (President Manuel) Zelaya moot and give the Honduran people a chance to choose their own future.”
Quick reality check: No semblance of order was ever restored in that country after the June 2009 ouster of the pajama-clad Zelaya at gunpoint. Those elections were, as Foreign Policy put it at the time, a sham that got Honduras booted from the Organization of American States for two years. Violence, including the state-sponsored variety, remains rife.
In a 2014 interview, Berta Cáceres, the prominent Honduran environmental leader assassinated earlier this year, underscored the former secretary of state’s role in “the meddling of North Americans in our country” and criticized the Honduran passage in Hard Choices.
The mainstream media has mostly ignored Clinton’s active role in creating what looks like Washington’s soft spot for soft coups. When journalist Juan Gonzalez broke this silence by asking the Democratic presidential nominee about Honduras during a New York Daily News editorial board meeting, she defended her actions and prescribed “a Colombian plan” to address widespread violence in Central America.
Wow. Starting when Bill Clinton was in the White House, Washington pumped $10 billion into Colombia to stamp out its drug trade and quell its long civil war. While the country is on the brink of a historic peace agreement, along the way more than 4 million people were uprooted and government security forces allegedly murdered some 4,300 civilians, including human rights activists and labor leaders, according to the Latin American Working Group. Colombian paramilitary groups still operate with impunity, says Amnesty International.
Remarkably, our government has used Plan Colombia as a model before. Launched during George W. Bush’s final years in office, Mexico’s Mérida Initiative has cost US taxpayers about $2.5 billion so far. Clinton and her staff can study how swimmingly that’s going in “Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes against Humanity in Mexico,” a new report from the Open Society Justice Initiative and five Mexican partners.
All of this means there are 27 million potential voters that Clinton can’t take for granted, especially if she refuses to own up to her past mistakes.