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I know what it’s like to live in a dictatorship

Trump’s fear tactics are nothing less than Fidel Castro’s intimidation of his opponents and the media and – far more dangerous – his willingness to incite violence and to subvert democratic institutions. (Leer en español)
Mileydi Guilarte is a former National Security Council Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
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Maximo Alvarez, founder of Sunshine Gasoline, addresses the RNC virtual convention on August 24, 2020. Crédito: Handout / Courtesy of the RNC / Getty Images

I came to the United States from Cuba in the mid-1980s when I was nine years old. Like so many from families who fled here to escape communism, corruption, and tyranny, I know what it’s like to live in a dictatorship. As such, I am vehemently anti-Castro and am an opponent of the current Cuban regime.

I am also supporting Joe Biden for President.

In recent weeks I have been baffled to see the daily lies spewed out on national television by our own brothers and sisters who repeat Donald Trump’s narratives again and again that he cares about us. Take Máximo Álvarez, who came to this country as a child during the Peter Pan Operation in the early 1960s and who endorsed Trump at the Republican National Convention last week. I could not help but think how Máximo and the more than 14,000 unaccompanied minors sent by their parents to escape Castro and to live in freedom would have been treated if Trump had been in power back then.

Trump would most likely have caged Máximo and those children – some of them our mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers – as he did the thousands of unaccompanied minors fleeing gang violence and failed governance in Central America. It pains me that someone like Máximo could support Trump, a dictator in the making, knowing what he knows about the suffering such leadership can cause.

We have seen this before: Trump’s fear tactics are nothing less than Castro’s intimidation of his opponents and the media and – far more dangerous – his willingness to incite violence and to subvert democratic institutions.

What is it about this that Máximo and other Latino Trump supporters do not get, whether Cuban or not? Sometimes the passion of our opposition to communism curdles our common sense.

I still recall – like so many of us – when I arrived in Hialeah in the mid-80s speaking not a word of English. I was only 9 years old. I worked in flea-markets in Opa Locka, Bird Road, and Homestead to help my parents make ends meet, and praying that none of us got sick because we couldn’t afford health insurance. Not until Obamacare – a law Joe Biden helped push through Congress – could some of my family members for the first time in more than 30 years in the U.S. afford health care.

The challenges most of us Latinos face did not stop me. I went on to become the first college graduate in my family, went to work for the federal government, and eventually worked in the White House during the Obama Administration. If Trump had been in charge four decades ago – I would be living in Cuba today, struggling to find paint for my apartment and fearing who might be monitoring my restricted online activity. And I would be waiting in vain for remittances from relatives in the United States, since Trump would have curtailed those too.

Trump is an expert at fooling people, as were Fidel and other dictators in Central and South America in our time. His claims that Biden is a socialist and that Biden is against law and order is Trump’s equivalent of Castro easily branding his opponents escorias and gusanos. It was not Castro’s opponents who betrayed the revolution – against another dictator – but Castro himself. And we know that with the Castros came corruption on a colossal scale – something that comes easy to Trump who has had seven close associates already convicted and who uses government influence to direct customers to his businesses. Where have we seen that before?

Unlike most of us who have helped turn Miami and South Florida into an economic powerhouse that is the envy of the hemisphere, we have done it with hard work and determination, unlike Trump who had everything handed to him by his father and thus did not grow up with the values handed down to us by our grandparents.

Lacking our values, it was only a matter of time before Trump failed so spectacularly as President. He resorts to doomsday scenarios to warn against Biden’s election. The scenarios that Latino Trump supporters should be wary of are the histories of our own families, not the harangues of a man who failed to protect the country from the covid infection, empowers white supremacists, and, again like Castro, took direct political aid from the Russians. A total of 26 Russian nationals and military intelligence officers have been indicted in efforts during the election four years ago to help Trump win, and a Republican-led investigation recently confirmed what we already knew – Trump’s campaign willingly accepted the help.

Have Trump’s Latino supporters forgotten that Vladimir Putin, another dictator, is seeking to undermine our country’s security just as Nikita Khrushchev did when Máximo and the other children were able to make their way to Florida just in the nick of time? Does Máximo forget that history repeats itself?

A second Trump term is not just dangerous for anyone who fears dictators. Any one of us who has darker skin or has an accent is always in danger when a police state runs amok. In a second Trump term, he would be free to unleash the full power of the state against anyone he wishes. Unidentified federal agents in unmarked vans snatching people off the street in Portland was only the beginning. Once dictators in Latin American countries consolidated their power as Trump is trying to doing now, they then did their worst. Destruction happens faster and faster when the restraints on behavior are removed. We have seen this time and time again.

In my work at the White House, I saw first-hand the ongoing chapters of the same tragic story of too many countries in Latin America that fall under dictatorial rule. Working on the staff of the National Security Council was like reliving my life every day since my arrival in Hialeah years ago. I made a vow then to never forget how dangerous some leaders can be. I know that with Joe Biden as President, the country can turn away from this perilous path Trump has put us on.

As we draw closer to Election Day, we are going to have to make a choice about whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump is better for this country for the next four years

We have resisted dictators before. It really should not be a difficult decision for us.

Mileydi Guilarte is a former National Security Council Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Prior to the White House, Guilarte served in a variety of positions at the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the United Nations, and most recently Counterpart International.