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Mike Pompeo and Ron DeSantis both leading figures in the GOP to capture the party's nomination for president in 2024. Photo: Getty Images. 
Mike Pompeo and Ron DeSantis both leading figures in the GOP to capture the party's nomination for president in 2024. Photo: Getty Images. 

2024 GOP presidential candidates use Cuban Crisis to showcase their foreign policy knowledge

Gov. DeSantis and Mike Pompeo are two frontrunners for the Republican nomination for president, and they are testing their knowledge on Latin America.

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Florida governor Ron DeSantis and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are leading polls to be their party’s nominee for president in three years due their ability to attract both moderate Republicans and the activist or Trump base. 

DeSantis’ youth and the fact that he still holds elected office helps him grab many headlines, but Pompeo has tried to make up ground by visiting early primary and caucus states. 

The diplomat has traveled to Iowa and New Hampshire and also gave the keynote address at a Republican fundraising dinner in South Carolina. 

The popular governor has claimed he is not focused on the presidency and instead has his eyes set on his 2022 reelection campaign. A victory there would continue to make him a favorable choice amongst his party’s voters. 

Pompeo’s Comeback

With Pompeo antagonizing left-wing governments in Latin America throughout his time as head of the State Department and DeSantis being a statewide elected official in Florida, the state with the highest concentration of Cuban-Americans in the country, both have offered their opinions on the protests currently playing out in Cuba.

“They pointed the finger at Covid, Cubans have pointed the finger at the Americans. The truth is that this is about communism, this is about socialism, this is about people demanding freedom,” Pompeo told Fox News. “Those exiles now that are living in America, they know freedom, they know the reality of it.” 

He was against the Obama administration’s move to open diplomatic relations with Raul Castro’s Cuba in July 2015. This reestablished an American embassy in the capital of Havana and resulted in the easing of some economic restrictions, but the embargo placed on the island by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 remained in place. 

Once Trump came into office, he wanted to set himself apart from his predecessor by undoing many of his foreign policy victories. 

On June 16, 2017, he signed a directive that ordered travel and commercial restrictions to be reinstated against Cuba. The former president viewed Obama’s deal as “one-sided” because he believed that the new trade opportunities would enrich government officials and help expand the country’s military. 

Pompeo was the nation’s CIA director at the time, but upon becoming America’s leading diplomat, he worked to weaken Cuba’s economy by attacking a key ally in Venezuela. 

In 2019, he went to the United Nations to try to convince the international community to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidό as Venezuela’s legitimate president. 

The former Secretary of State also supported the U.S. Treasury Department’s efforts to sanction shipping firms for transporting Venezuelan oil. In February 2020, Nicolás Maduro’s government provided Cuba with as much as 173,000 barrels per day of crude oil despite sanctions that were placed on Venezuela’s state owned oil and gas company, PdVSA. 

One of Pompeo’s last actions during the Trump administration was designating Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism on Jan. 12, 2021 because of the govenrment’s continued support of Maduro. 

He has remained consistent in his opposition to Cuba’s communist leadership and this will be something he touts to win over Cuban-American voters in Florida. However, DeSantis is the favorite there, having represented the state since 2013, when he was a member of Congress. 

The former CIA director will have to try to separate himself from war hawk voices in the cabinet he was a part of, like the former U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliot Abrams and Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton. 

With there not being a strong appetite for foreign intervention in either Cuba or Venezuela, both men have advocated for regime change in different countries across the globe. 

DeSantis’ appeal to Cuban-Americans

Being a governor means that foreign policy is not specifically in DeSantis’ job description, but he can credit his 2018 election victory to southern Florida’s conservative Cuban-American vote. 

His lieutenant governor, Jeanette Nuñez, was born in Miami to Cuban exiles who fled the Castro regime. She is the first Latina to serve as Florida’s lieutenant governor. 

He held a roundtable discussion on the Cuban crisis on Tuesday July 13, 2021 and has been repeatedly asked about the ongoing situation on the island. 

“We obviously have to stand with the people of Cuba against the communist dictatorship… We can be helpful to getting the internet back on the island of Cuba. The one that communist regimes fear most is the truth,” DeSantis said last Thursday. 

Florida’s governor has also called upon the Biden administration to move quickly on restoring internet access to Cuba after the government blocked social media sites in an attempt to stifle dissent. 

Cuban-Americans have taken to the streets in some of the Sunshine state’s most populated cities to support anti-government protests back on the island. Some demonstrations were so large that they blocked major highways for several hours. 

This has sparked controversy since DeSantis signed an anti-riot bill into law in April, which explicitly states that protestors who obstruct a public street, highway or road are “subject to felony arrest.” 

First Amendment and free speech advocates were outraged by the bill because drivers will have civil immunity if they run into protestors and will not be sued for damages or deaths if they claim self-defense. 

Democrats accused the GOP governor of promoting that law to discourage Black Lives Matter protesters. With no one being arrested under that law after various road blockades have taken place in Florida, it does seem like DeSantis is selectively enforcing the anti-riot bill.   

Not Enough

Both Pompeo and Florida’s governor follow the Republican narrative of preventing left-wing forces from gaining power in Latin America. 

Their experience and positions might allow them to capture the conservative Latino vote, but it is not clear if it will help them in a general election since Democratic leadership has not embraced lefitist leaders in the region. 

Biden recognizes Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader and he recently referred to Cuba as a “failed state.”

He won the vote in Florida twice when he was on the ballot as a vice presidential candidate but lost in 2020 by 3.3%, or nearly 400,000 votes. 

Trump was the incumbent president and switched the state he was registered to vote in from New York to Florida before the election. 

The former president continuously called Biden, a longtime moderate, a socialist to make his policies seem radical and sympathetic to the ideas of authoritarian left-wing Latin American leaders.  

GOP candidates in 2024 will probably have to refer to the same playbook when attacking their Democratic opponent. 

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