Monday, October 15, 2012

Romney's Stolen Line: A Cuban-American PR Disaster

by Nomad

When it comes to foreign policy, Romney has had more than his share of missteps- even before he began this campaign. Back in the 2008 presidential race, for example, he accidentally caused a public relations nightmare with Cuban-Americans

In March 2007, while speaking in Miami, Romney made a play for the Latino vote, telling his audience:
Hugo Chavez has tried to steal an inspiring phrase. Excuse me for my pronunciation: ‘Patria o muerte, venceremos.’ It does not belong to him, it belongs to a free Cuba.’”
That phrase means ‘Fatherland Or Death, We Shall Overcome.” Obviously somebody thought Romney could take a page from the Kennedy playbook and speak as the natives do. When Kennedy mangled German, it somehow added to the charm. That an American president would make an attempt to speak their language saying, literally, I am one with you.” It's pretty old schtick but effective when it goes right. 

In Romney’s case, it all went ..not right. By that I mean, it went horribly wrong. 

If he had consciously tried to pick one phrase that would put the immigrant Cuban community’s collective nose out of joint, he could not have done any better than that particular slogan. Instead of applause, the audience reportedly reacted with confusion and later outright anger. 
Unbeknownst to Mr. Romney- (or his staff apparently), the line just happened not to have originated with Hugo Chavez but with the Venezuelan leader‘s long-admired comrade. The slogan was, in fact, the trademark speech-making sign-off of the exiles’ most despised opponent, Fidel Castro. At the same time, Romney was calling Castro a "monster."

Actually, it was not the only mistake he made in that speech. He reportedly mispronounced the names of local Hispanic politicians, calling the then Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio “Mario.” As in plumbing brothers. 
To add salsa to the enchilada, Romney punctuated his speech with “Libertad, libertad, libertad,” in an effort to show his solidarity with the crowd’s aspirations of freedom. Unfortunately, to many, he was echoing a line from the film “Scarface,” a movie notorious for its stereotyped portrayals of Cuban immigrants. 
All in all, it could hardly have come off any worse. 
According to Boston Herald,
Cubans in Miami are steaming mad at former Gov. Mitt Romney for shooting his mouth off in stumbling Spanish, mispronouncing names and erroneously associating a notorious Fidel Castro-spewed Communist catch phrase with freedom fighters. Politicians in South Florida have lashed out at the former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential hopeful for describing the socialist saying ‘Patria o muerte, venceremos’ as ‘inspiring’ and for claiming the phrase was swiped from liberty-seeking Cubans by leftist admirers of Castro.
¡Qué desastre.
The fallout from the fumble, as one report explains, was nothing short of a humiliation for Romney.
“[State Rep. Rene] Garcia said Romney was ‘ill-advised’ to mention the saying at all, especially speaking in Miami, the epicenter of the Cuban-American struggle. ‘When you come into our community, you should be a little better-prepared.’ Garcia said, adding that the incident ‘left a negative taste with local officials.’”
When the extent of the public relations calamity became clear, Romney’s spokesman,Eric Fehrnstrom, made an attempt to spin by telling reporters that the phrase did not belong to Chavez or Castro but to the Cuban exiles.
That statement was quickly dismissed by Cuban politicians as well as scholars and experts on Cuban history. The term was coined by Castro’s regime and had always been a Communist catchphrase. 
Said University of Miami Professor Jaime Suchlicki, an authority on Cuban history:
‘It belongs to Fidel. I don’t know where[Romney] got that.’
(Possibly pulled out his culo?)

Admittedly accidents like this can happen at any time. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton embarrassed herself in a much less public way when presenting the Russian foreign minister a gimmicky mock-up of “re-set button” on US-Russian relations. The minister, Sergei Lavrov- rather un-diplomatically, I think- pointed out how poorly the Russian text was translated. 
Unlike Romney, Clinton wasted no time with excuses and the two laughed it off. After two hours of meetings, the pair joked about the gaffe. Lavrov told reporters:
"We reached an agreement on how 'reset' is spelled in both Russian and English - we have no differences between us any more."
But perhaps in the Romney example there is something more that meets the eye. A Romney weakness, if you will. A kind of superficial understanding of international relations or, at the very least, a lack of critical thinking or sensitivity. Basically a failure to ask why and to look deeper. 
It is rather shocking that nobody in his campaign actually bothered to consult even one representative for the Cuban-American community to ask how that speech might sound. Instead they let him march onto the stage and make a complete fool of himself.

Nobody wondered why would Hugo Chavez have used that phrase? None of his speechwriters (I am assuming he did not ad-lib or write the speech himself) made any investigation about the roots of that particular phrase. 
As one local politician remarked (with a delicate sense of understatement):
‘Whoever prepared him or advised him on this particular subject didn’t do a good enough job.’
True. For the Cuban exiles it would have been as if the Pope had gone to Israel to visit a Holocaust museum and quoted a line from the Nuremberg rallies.

After his absolutely abysmal performance during his European tour earlier this year, it looks like nothing much has changed since 2007. Following that foreign tour fiasco, one anonymous commenter at one Utah-based website put his/her finger precisely on the problem:
"Voters are looking to see what kind of President he might make; these gaffes suggest a tendency to go off half-cocked or with insufficient information and sensitivity. That cannot help him."
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