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Luis Gutiérrez: “Biden has to speak directly to Latino voters”

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For the former Democratic Congressman from Illinois, Luis Gutiérrez, the spectacle of Donald Trump taking to the White House balcony “was like Francisco Franco or Augusto Pinochet.” Leaving the hospital with COVID-19 and defiantly removing his mask takes him closer to defeat, since he projects himself as “an agent of chaos.”

And although Gutiérrez wants the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, to beat Trump in the national elections, he reminds us that we cannot forget the lessons of the 2016 presidential contest and cannot leave anything to chance. Biden, says Gutiérrez, “has to speak directly to Latino voters.”

In a phone conversation, the former Congressman recalled a commercial from Barack Obama, speaking entirely in Spanish, in the 2012 re-election campaign, about how he saw in Dreamers “the same qualities that Michelle and I try to instill in our daughters.”

“Say what you will about the first four years of Obama, but when he came back, he spoke to us directly, about our values, our children, our aspirations,” Gutiérrez points out.

“I want Biden to speak to us directly. Clearly we know that he has a plan for Puerto Rico, for example, but it’s not the lack of a plan, but rather of articulating it vigorously and effectively,” says Gutiérrez.

For example, in Puerto Rican communities, he could utilize the very Puerto Rican caravans of “tumba cocos” (trucks with audio speakers),

where a candidate or his spokespeople are transported and followed by other vehicles and in that way respect social distancing in the times of COVID, but still appeal directly to the voter.

“The Biden campaign has focused a lot on celebrities instead of these types of caravans and political events that I think go hand in hand and can be complementary.”

Another suggestion from Gutiérrez is that they use more Latino elected officials. “And for the record I don’t say this for me, since after endorsing his candidacy I never heard from the campaign again. But why not utilize all of those marvelous Latinos as spokespeople? A celebrity attracts attention, but you also need substance about why people should vote for this candidate and they have been weak in this sense,” he opines.

Gutiérrez, who decided not to seek reelection to Congress for Illinois’ District 4, where he served from 1993 to 2019, now lives in Puerto Rico, and although he retired from Congress, he did not retire from political life. In this election he is collaborating with the union UNITE HERE and others in the mobilization of the Puerto Rican and Latino vote in the United States, and urging Boricuas on the Island to promote voting among their relatives and contacts in the United States.

Over the past few weeks, Gutiérrez has traveled to key states in the presidential contest, including Nevada, Florida, and Pennsylvania, among others, to mobilize the important Latino vote.

Although in general the Hispanic vote favors Biden, it’s enough for Trump to retain a percentage of this vote equal or superior to what he achieved in 2016 to maintain his competitiveness. And while going to the neighborhoods where these voters concentrate is good, it’s urgent, he says, for Biden to speak directly to the Latinx community since we cannot forget the ideological differences among Hispanics and even among Puerto Ricans themselves.

“In the Puerto Rican vote in Florida, for example, three strains of ideology converge. First you have those who migrated from New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, or Newark, who tend to be more liberal; then you have those born in Kissimmee, Orlando, and Tampa, who are more moderate and also liberal; and finally you have those who come directly from Puerto Rico, who tend to be more conservative,” explains Gutiérrez.

And when the unelected governor of Puerto Rico, Wanda Vázquez, and the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in Washington, Jennifer González, support Trump, “it should surprise no one that there are Puerto Ricans voting for Trump,” although the irony is that Vázquez and González are advocates for the statehood that Trump opposes. “And who are those [Puerto Ricans] who support Trump? Conservative evangelicals who think that it is true that Trump cages children [detained at the border], but [they say] ‘we will pray for him because he is confronting those who defend abortion.’ Or Trump insults Puerto Ricans, but in the Sunday service [they say] ‘we’ll pray for him because he will make sure that the LGBTQ community cannot prosper in the United States,’” says Gutiérrez.

Biden came out in favor of Puerto Rico becoming a state of the United States, a subject that can be a little tricky on the Island and can either win you followers or scare off others who advocate either for independence or free association on the Island.

Although Gutiérrez does not share Biden’s opinion on that matter, he accepts that “he is at least being honest.”

“I trust Biden. I can disagree with him on issues like statehood for Puerto Rico, but he respects us. At least he is honest,” he says.

“I am going to work for him and my critiques are so that the campaign can do a better job. I keep waiting for that Biden commercial like the Obama ad about Dreamers. Biden can do it. He can go to the mountains of Jayuya or Utuado (central municipalities in Puerto Rico) where there are still people without roofs, water, and electricity due to Hurricane Maria; he can speak about the anguish of our Mexican and immigrant community; appeal to the Venezuelan community by telling them that in his presidency, they will not be deported to the [Nicolás] Maduro regime. Confront Donald Trump and his lies. When he calls Biden a socialist, he should respond that Trump is the one who wants to deport Venezuelans to the Maduro dictatorship,” he states.

“If he talks about white supremacsits, he can remind everyone that one went to El Paso to kill Hispanics and in that way he is speaking to us directly,” he says.

All in all, Gutiérrez is betting that the mobilization will yield fruit.

“I know that Trump wants to suppress the vote because he is losing. His plan is to de-legitimize the process, intimidate at the polls, and turn to the courts, especially a Supreme Court stacked 6-3 in his favor. For that reason, our victory has to be overwhelming, extraordinary,” he concludes.

Maribel Hastings