Former President Donald J. Trump visited Miami’s Little Havana on Tuesday immediately following his indictment, his latest attempt to present himself as a man hounded by his political enemies.
It was a no-nonsense attempt to appeal to Latinos, in Florida and beyond.
Trump’s visit to the Versailles restaurant, an emblematic landmark of the Cuban diaspora, came as Republicans increasingly likened his accusation to corruption and political oppression in Latin American countries.
Outside the federal courthouse where the prosecution took place in Miami, Alina Habba, a lawyer and Trump spokesperson, suggested he was no different from political dissidents in Latin America.
« Targeting, prosecuting, a major political opponent is the kind of thing you see in dictatorships like Cuba and Venezuela, » he said. « It is common for rival candidates to be tried, persecuted and put in prison. »
The day before his arraignment, Mr. Trump said he believes Hispanics in South Florida sympathize with him because they are familiar with governments targeting rivals.
« They really see it better than other people, » she said in an interview with Americano Media, a Spanish-language conservative outlet in South Florida.
Mr. Trump has enjoyed relatively strong support in some Latino communities, especially those in South Florida. Eduardo A. Gamarra, a professor of politics and international relations at Florida International University who is also part of its Cuban Research Institute, said the narrative spun by Trump and his surrogates, while false, was astute.
« It’s reinforced by the local media, by much of what they say about the Trump campaign and other Republicans: that this administration, the Biden administration, is behaving the way banana republics do, so it resonated here very loudly, » he said. « It’s a great policy, but it’s not true. »
Mr. Gamarra, who was born in Bolivia, noted that Mr. Trump had also tried to win the support of Latino voters by railing against socialism and communism. He has complained about the way Trump and his allies have repeatedly mentioned Latin America.
« It’s a very unfortunate narrative, » he said. “I think it just propagates stereotypes about Latin America. It’s much more complex than just the banana republic image. »
Mr. Trump’s cameo at the restaurant was the last for him and a long line of politicians that includes former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. In 2016, the restaurant co-hosted Mr. Trump and Rudolph W. Giuliani after Trump’s first debate against Hillary Clinton.
Paloma Marcos, a Nicaraguan native and a U.S. citizen of 15 years, stormed into Versailles with a Trump hat and a sign that read, « I stand with Trump. »
She said many Nicaraguans like her had an affinity for the former president because he is against Communism. She added that people like her, as well as Cubans and Venezuelans, have seen how that form of government has destroyed their home countries.
“He knows we support him. The Latino community has had a revival, » Ms. Marcos said. « The curtain has been drawn back. »
Reverend Yoelis Sánchez, pastor of a local church and originally from the Dominican Republic, said she did not hesitate when asked to go to the Versailles restaurant to pray with Mr. Trump. Several religious people, including Evangelicals and Catholics, prayed with him as his daughter sang.
“We prayed for God to give him strength and for the truth to come out,” he said. « We are really concerned for his well-being. »
Ms. Sánchez, who lives in Doral, Florida, which is part of Miami-Dade County and is where Mr. Trump owns a golf course, was not yet a citizen as of 2020. She would not say if she intends to vote for him in 2024.
« I don’t think he came here just for the Latino vote, » he said. « He came because he wanted to meet people who have a biblical thought: he is in favor of life and the family and the Latins identify with this ».
Mr. Trump is facing criminal charges related to mishandling classified documents and thereby obstructing government attempts to recover them. The federal prosecution of a former president is unprecedented in the United States, but many Latin American presidents have been prosecuted after leaving office.
The current president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, served more than a year in prison after leaving office the first time. Last year, former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was sentenced to six years for corruption. In Peru, Alejandro Toledo was recently extradited to face corruption charges. Its former leader, Alberto Fujimori, is serving 25 years in prison.
Arnoldo Alemán of Nicaragua is one of the few former presidents arrested for corruption despite his own party being in power.
« This is something you see a lot in Latin America, especially in Peru and now El Salvador, » said Mario García, a Versailles regular who was tickled to see Mr. Trump visit the restaurant. « But in those countries, they do it for a good reason: because presidents get caught stealing money. » Mr. García said he believed the government was targeting Mr. Trump « because they have no other way to get him. »
Mr. García said he didn’t think Mr. Trump had come to Versailles to court the Latino vote. « The votes here in Versailles are the ones he already has, » he said. “He needs support. It feels good to surround yourself with love when everyone is attacking you. »
Maggie Habermann AND Nick Madigan contributed report.