MIAMI -- The two leading candidates in the Republican primary, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, arrived in Miami on Wednesday to curry the support of tens of thousands of Cuban Republican voters and outline their plans to improve U.S-Latin American relations.
First up was Gingrich, who spoke at Florida International University, where about 250 people gathered at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center. He focused much of his attention on Cuba and the U.S. Southern Command, which is based in Miami.
He proposed a more aggressive attitude toward Cuba, saying he would try to bring about a “Cuban spring” to usher in democracy to the communist island nation.
“I don’t think it occurs to a single person in the White House to look south and propose a Cuban spring,”said Gingrich in a speech sponsored by FIU College Republicans.
He said that he thought President Barack Obama was “going almost exactly the opposite,” of what he should be doing with his Cuba policy.
As he suggested in during Monday night’s debate in Tampa, Gingrich pledged to use every “non-military tool available” against Cuba. He cited the role played by Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher in the crumbling of the former Soviet Union as inspiration for his Cuba policy. He did not rule out covert operations to overturn the Cuban dictatorship led by the Castro brothers, Raul and Fidel.
“More than 50 years of dictatorship is more than enough,” he said to loud applause.
He said he wanted to send “a clear message to the younger generation of Cubans that there will not be a succesor to Castro.”
In speaking about the rest of Latin America, Gingrich said “very fundamental changes” are long overdue in U.S. policy toward the region.
He proposed “dramatically strengthening” the U.S. Southern Command, saying that he would transfer oversight of Mexico from the Northern Command to the Southern Command. The move, he suggested, would help Mexico win its war with drug cartels.
Gingrich said he favors easing travel to the United States for Latin Americans who visit on business or as tourists.
In brief remarks about Haiti, Gingrich said the massive aid provided has done little for the Haitian people. They “still live very difficult and painful lives,” he said.
“I think we need to rethink from the ground up how we approach foreign aid and how we help people,” said Gingrich, though he spell out any specifics on how he would change U.S. foreign aid priorities.
Next up will Romney, who is speaking at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami at about 3:15 p.m.