Florida Politics

Politics, Miami-style: Senate race ad casts Democrat as Castro apologist

Democrat Annette Taddeo is running for Senate District 40 in a special Sept. 26 election.
Democrat Annette Taddeo is running for Senate District 40 in a special Sept. 26 election. emichot@miamiherald.com

Democratic Senate candidate Annette Taddeo has denounced as false an explosive Spanish-language radio ad from Florida Republicans casting her as — wait for it — a tax-hiker, job-offshorer, Colombian-guerrilla sympathizer and Fidel Castro apologist.

The ad reflects a tried-and-true campaign tack in Miami politics: paint your opponent as soft on Cuba, or soft on Communism.

Particularly offensive to Taddeo is the suggestion that she wanted to “legitimize” the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Taddeo was born in Colombia and fled as a teenager after the FARC captured her father, an American military veteran, at the family ranch.

“How dare my opponent, lobbyist Jose Felix Diaz, use our community’s painful history for political gain?” Taddeo said in a statement. “My father was kidnapped by the FARC and my family had to flee Colombia because of our safety.”

She will face Diaz, a state representative, and independent candidate Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth in the special Sept. 26 Senate District 40 election to replace Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned in disgrace in April.

The ad claims that “when [former President Barack] Obama insisted on a peace plan in Colombia that would legitimize the FARC, Taddeo put partisanship over everything else to support it.”

Erin Isaac, a spokeswoman for the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, the GOP group that paid for the ad, cited as justification for the claim a 2014 interview with a leftist radio host in which Taddeo backed Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ effort to try to negotiate a FARC peace accord. The FRSCC is registered to Senate President Joe Negron and run by Majority Leader Bill Galvano.

“I agree with the president of Colombia that it must be attempted, and it’s difficult, it’s a difficult situation,” Taddeo said in the 2014 interview. “I lived through many situations and those very difficult times with the FARC. Now they’re much weaker, so it’s the right time to try to reach peace in Colombia. And it would be an example of what can be done in other places.”

She added that she had “doubts” about the process because it involved mediation from Cuba and Venezuela. “But I want to give it a chance, and if [Santos] can do it, it would be wonderful, not only for Colombia but for the entire hemisphere.”

Colombian voters rejected the peace accord in a vote last year, in part because the punishment against guerrilla members accused of serious crimes wasn’t spelled out. The latest version of the peace deal goes into more specifics — but still allows the FARC to participate in politics.

In 2014, Taddeo did not weigh in on whether the FARC should be cleared to run for office. She also made no mention of Obama in relation to Colombia; last year, Obama welcomed the signing of the peace accord, two years after Taddeo made her comments.

“The ad says she supports Obama. who promoted a Colombia plan that legitimizes the FARC,” Isaac said in an email to the Miami Herald.

Isaac cited the same 2014 interview with Edmundo García, a pro-Castro radio host and blogger, to justify the ad’s claim that Taddeo “didn’t defend us” when parrying with García, “the well-known apologist of the Castro dictatorship who has repeatedly offended our community.”

During the interview, Taddeo agreed with García that Republican Gov. Rick Scott shouldn’t have signed legislation aimed at stopping Miami-Dade County from doing business with construction giant Odebrecht just because Odebrecht was renovating the Cuban Port of Mariel. The law was found unconstitutional.

But Taddeo also disagreed with García, especially when it came to whether the U.S. should allow free travel and investment in Cuba.

“I’m going to sound like Ileana [Ros-Lehtinen] or Mario [Diaz-Balart] or Joe Garcia,” Taddeo said at one point, referring to Republican Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart and ex-Democratic Rep. Garcia, no relation to Edmundo García. “They really have to free these prisoners detained simply because they have a difference of opinion. They shouldn’t be in jail. They shouldn’t be persecuted.”

She named Alan Gross, the U.S. contractor who was then still being held by the Cuban government and has since been released. García pressed Taddeo, arguing Gross’ detention was proper and the U.S. would have acted similarly if it had been in Cuba’s position.

“I obviously don’t agree with your perspective, but I’m very glad that you're in a country where you can express your opinion,” Taddeo said.

Elsewhere, the ad claims Taddeo “backed the property-tax increase.”

According to Isaac, that’s a reference to an endorsement Taddeo received from the Democratic Progressive Caucus, which advocates for a more progressive tax code that would place less of a burden on the middle class — and, by extension, a bigger burden on wealthier people. But Taddeo, who has never held office, has never voted for a specific “property-tax increase.”

Finally, the ad claims that Taddeo’s translation company, LanguageSpeak, “hired foreign workers and opened offices in communist China.” Isaac cited a 2007 South Florida Business Journal story about the benefits to local businesses of major corporations expanding their Chinese ventures. The article said LanguageSpeak had “opened an office in Beijing six months ago” to keep up with demand to tutor executives in Mandarin and translate documents for corporations like Office Depot.

Taddeo’s campaign, however, said the company never opened a Chinese office or contemplated doing so, doesn’t tutor executives and only did Spanish translations for Office Depot, though it has done translations in Mandarin for other clients. LanguageSpeak also doesn’t have foreign employees, the campaign said.

“The false attacks waged by my opponent and his Republican allies are based on incorrect facts and misinformation,” Taddeo’s statement said. “I have never opened an office in China nor had any discussions to that extent. In fact, I’ve never been to China. This attack is a complete lie and my opponent should demand that the commercial be pulled as it only spreads falsehoods.”

Asked why Taddeo did not ask for the 2007 story to be corrected, the campaign said she had never seen the story before Friday.

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