When she was in high school, just over 13 years old, Isabel Betancourt was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that inflames and deforms her joints. Since then, this 36-year-old woman of Cuban origin has had to deal not only with the deep pain that it causes her, but also with a series of obstacles to access the doctors and treatments she needs, a difficult task in a country where health is not public.
In the luckier times, he has had jobs that offered him insurance; in others, they have simply had to endure the pain because they could not afford the medications. Until Obamacare, the affordable health program promoted by former President Barack Obama. Although he assures that the plan is not perfect, and sometimes he had to pay very high deductibles, that law that prohibited insurance companies from rejecting patients with chronic diseases had a very clear effect on his pocket and his health: Enbrel, the medicine that she has to inject once a week, went from costing $ 4,000 a month, an unattainable price for her, to just $ 100.
Betancourt was raised in Hialeah, a working-class city in South Florida, where 96% of the population is Latino, mostly first- and second-generation Cubans, and which leads the nation's Obamacare affiliations. But, although many of his neighbors have benefited from social programs like that, which are usually championed by Democrats, in the elections next Tuesday, support for Joe Biden, who was Obama's vice president, is not taken for granted. In fact, Hialeah has traditionally been a Republican stronghold within Miami-Dade County. And, despite the fact that in 2016 Donald Trump won in that town literally by a handful of votes (he only had 93 more than Hillary Clinton), if one takes a walk through its streets of low houses, where businesses with all kinds of products proliferate to send to Cuba, only posters supporting the president and his Keep america great ("Let's keep America great.")
While the Democratic candidate has assured that he will keep what remains of Obamacare (which has been dismantled in Congress) and improve it, the Republican has spent years anticipating that he will end that plan and replace it with another that he has not just revealed. “In theory it's a hell of a show. My grandfather before Obamacare did not have insurance. No one grabbed him, with Obamacare yes. But forcing you to have insurance is a certain coercion, ”says Raúl Rodríguez, a 25-year-old Cuban businessman who grew up in Spain and migrated with his family to the United States in 2013. Seven years later, he has managed to set up two liquor stores, one of them in Hialeah.
“It didn't suit me, because I already had insurance and it went up three times in price, but here many benefited from Obamacare when it came out: you saw agencies (that sold insurance) in all moles (malls), because they gave a lot of money. The demographic here was free money. It was a time when Cuban migrants arrived every day, ”he says in his office. The years Rodríguez is talking about were when the "dry feet, wet feet" law still existed, which allowed practically every Cuban who reached the United States to stay in the country, even if they had entered illegally. Furthermore, unlike other migrant groups, they had immediate access to social benefits and could obtain US residency within a year. But President Obama put an end to that policy at the end of his term, arguing that, with the rapprochement undertaken between his government and that of Havana, it was no longer necessary.
The ghost of communism
But beyond a matter of convenience, Rodríguez identifies that the message of the Republican campaign to stir up the specter of communism on the Democratic Party is penetrating deep among Cuban Americans in South Florida, some 1.3 million voters who, according to the latest poll by Florida International University (FIU), will favor President Trump by almost 60% in the November elections. “Here with the word socialist you get nowhere. You arrive here longing for freedom and the least you want is to find yourself with the same thing. When you hear Bernie (Sanders) saying that Fidel Castro did a lot for the country, what is scary, ”says the owner of the liquor store.
And there seems to be the explanation for this apparent contradiction. In South Florida, the possible benefits of specific social policies such as Obamacare or the rapprochement with Cuba, enjoyed by thousands of citizens who had more facilities to travel to their country or send remittances and all kinds of products to their families on the island , clash with the ideological principles of a group of Latin Americans who arrived in exiles fleeing leftist governments and who carry a trauma against everything that reminds them of those systems.
Eduardo Gamarra, professor of Political Science and International Relations at the FIU, attributes the good functioning of the specter of communism promoted by the Republican campaign in part of the Latin American electorate in South Florida to three causes: studies financed in large part by the former governor of Florida and now Republican Senator Rick Scott who determined the susceptibility of Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans to socialism; the emergence of the most progressive wing of the party, represented by Bernie Sanders and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the deterioration of the situation in the countries of origin of these immigrants.
“Nicaragua went to the devil, Venezuela below the devil and Cuba was closed. They had the empirical result of the impact of communism, as they call it, with the Nicaraguans and Venezuelans arriving here every day. The message had a very strong support and these very susceptible communities believed it and Bernie did not help saying that Cuba had great education and health programs, "says Gamarra." That kind of messages may work in Europe, but here they do not work and in this community fell very badly. It is a population of exiles, after all, although the message is exaggerated. The US is never going to be socialist even if they elect Sanders three times. "
Faced with this discourse, in recent months voices have emerged in those communities that support Joe Biden with the slogan "100% anti-communist, 100% anti-fascist, 100% pro-Biden" and reject the "exploitation of trauma" in that group of exiles for political purposes. "Republicans think that Cuban Americans are so ignorant that we cannot differentiate the Democrats who ask to raise the minimum wage and combat climate change from the far-left dictatorship of Cuba that suppresses human rights and starves the people," wrote in a letter to the editor at The Miami Herald Horacio Sierra, president of the Miami-Dade Cuban-American Democratic group.
However, Republicans have managed to overshadow other Florida campaign issues with the discourse of socialism, which worries even the few remaining undecided voters like Isabel Betancourt. “Leftist people who are calling for socialism, they don't know what they are really asking for. That is a softer word to speak of communism, "says the woman who identifies as independent and says she is disappointed with" mediocre politicians. " Although Betancourt rejects a stronger government, as the Republicans defend, because he believes that this encourages corruption, he supports the creation of social programs such as Obamacare, from which he benefited before getting insurance at the university where he is enrolled by the nights to study remotely, while during the day he works in administration in a construction company.
What is clear to him is that he rejects the discourse that emerged mainly from a conservative sector that social programs serve to keep those who do not want to work but to live off the government. “I don't want to be supported, I want to feel good so that I can get up every morning like thousands of people do and earn my own living,” says Betancourt. “But it's a bit unfair that politicians have‘ Cadillac ’insurance and they and their relatives have the best medical care with our money. And that they deny us the same service they have is what mortifies me the most.
Subscribe here to newsletter about elections in the United States