Opinion: Andrew Gillum, born to make history

By Gustavo Azócar Alcalá (*)

Things are not going very well for Donald Trump. On November 6, the President of the United States will face his first electoral battle since his arrival at the White House in January 2017. According to nearly all surveys, Trump will lose the majority in the House of Representatives, and a significant number of seats in the Senate.

But that’s not all. Trump is about to lose a Republican electoral stronghold. The State of Florida, one of the most important electoral regions, controlled by Republicans since 1999, could be governed for the first time by an Afro-American: Andrew Gillum, a progressive Democrat who leads among likely voters in the Florida Governor’s election, is four points ahead of Republican competitor Ron DeSantis, who has the backing of the President.

Trump knows he will lose the governorship of Florida. This explains his shameless attack against Gillum, mayor of Florida’s capital city Tallahassee since 2014. DeSantis’ campaign team, using the same attack techniques as Trump, has said that Gillum is a “socialist” and has planted the rumor that if Gillum becomes governor, that he will convert Florida into a second Venezuela.

This is the most ridiculous thing I have heard in my life. Whoever says this definitely does not know Venezuela. The problem in Venezuela has nothing to do with socialism. In fact, in Venezuela there is no socialist government nor even anything resembling one. What there is, in Venezuela, is a gang of criminals, drug traffickers and corrupt military officers who took power in the wake of a coup d’état in 1992. These criminals who so badly govern my country are not socialists: they are killers, thieves, money launderers and cocaine traffickers who hide behind a supposed leftist ideology in order to commit their misdeeds.

Andrew Gillum is “a liberal Democrat in the classic sense, one of those who favors an active government to correct social ills”, according to Eduardo Gamarra, political scientist at Florida International University. I don’t envision Gillum expropriating businesses, taking over farms, closing businesses, jailing journalists, trafficking drugs, or laundering money. That’s what the “leaders” of Venezuela do. And that is not socialism.

I do not personally know Andrew Gillum. I would have liked to meet him. If I lived in Florida, without a doubt I would be working in his electoral campaign. I couldn’t, because among other things, over a year ago, the Trump administration decided to take away the US visa I have had for over 20 years which allowed me to study and obtain a doctorate at the George Washington University in 2013. Maybe this is what Ron DeSantis was trying to say when he spoke to his daughter in a television advertisement: “Build a wall.” The Republican candidate wanted his daughter to believe that any person who comes from the outside is not a good person.

Maybe some Republicans are bothered by the humble origin of Andrew Gillum, who was born to a poor family in Miami. Gillum, the current mayor of Tallahassee, is the son of a bus driver and a construction worker. He is the only candidate for governor who is not a millionaire. Is this background some kind of crime, or an obstacle for becoming governor at this point?

Gillum’s campaign is progressive. His governmental program was designed thinking about workers, the majority of whom are fed up with wages too low to live on, much less pay for medical coverage. Some Republicans accuse Gillum of being a socialist. But Gillum is no socialist. He’s a progressive, which is different. If we had a progressive government in Venezuela, it would be a different story. But in Venezuela, there is no socialism. There is something much worse: militarism with populism, with drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime.

Thousands of professional, honest, decent Venezuelans could not enter the US because they couldn’t get a visa. But in Florida there are numerous corrupt and wealthy ex-Venezuelan officials and revolutionaries who enriched themselves in the murderous regimes of Chávez and Maduro, and now enjoy the profits of their crimes. Republicans have attacked Maduro hard, but have said little about the corrupt government associates, the “boliburgueses” who stole from all Venezuelans and now live in Florida. This is a job which Andrew Gillum should take on.

To fight for the rights of people is not socialist. It is being fair. Florida has among the lowest wages in the US. In Florida, people are being exploited; among them, millions of undocumented people, many from Venezuela. They fled Venezuela to escape from a military dictatorship supported by the Castro brothers and also with the support of Vladimir Putin, who helped Donald Trump win the presidency in 2016.

A survey by the University of North Florida, released some days ago, says that Gillum, a 39-year-old afro-American, mayor of Tallahassee, backed by the Democratic Party, has 47% support from potential Florida voters. This is compared to 43% for former Navy attorney, ex-Iraq soldier, ex-Representative Ron DeSantis.

10 percent of likely voters still haven’t decided who they will vote for in the governorship elections on November 6, coinciding with the midterm elections. According to the UNF survey, Gillum has the support of 85% of Democratic possible voters, but also 11% of Republicans.

I have read and heard, from Venezuela, almost all of Andrew Gillum’s speeches. These are not the speeches of a socialist, much less a communist. I don’t know where Trump and DeSantis get this idea that Gillum is a “failed socialist”.

What is most likely is that they are saying it to try to get a few points for DeSantis and other Republican candidates. It’s the same strategy they have used to attack the moderate and independent Senator Bill Nelson who was recognized by the Venezuelan community for his support of Venezuelan democracy; and who has called for stronger measures against Maduro.

But for those who know the real situation in Venezuela, the “socialism” line is not going to work. Andrew Gillum represents an historic change for Florida. The Democratic Party has not governed this state since 1999. When I see Gillum on television or on social media, I see in him some traces of many other afro-Americans who were also born to make history. Gillum reminds me of Mohammed Ali and Jackie Robinson. He was nominated as a candidate for governor of Florida on the anniversary date of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

But he also reminds me of Ruby Nell Bridges Hall, born September 8, 1954 in Tylertown, Mississippi. She was the first afro-American girl to attend a “white” school in 1960. Ruby caused a break with history. Something very similar will happen when Gillum reaches the governorship of the state of Florida.

(*)  Gustavo Azócar Alcalá was the first Venezuelan journalist imprisoned during Hugo Chávez Frias’ communist revolution in Venezuela. He was jailed on March 6, 2006 for denouncing the corruption of Chávez collaborators. Azócar was imprisoned for a second time in 2010, for his work as an investigative journalist. He was held for 8 months in a jail for regular prisoners. He has written 8 books. His most recent work is titled: Will the US Invade Venezuela? (¿Invadirá EEUU a Venezuela?)