Cubans in Miami are steaming mad at former Gov. Mitt Romney for shooting his mouth off in stumbling Spanish, mispronouncing names and erroneously associating a notorious Fidel Castro-spewed Communist catch phrase with freedom fighters.

Politicians in South Florida have lashed out at the former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential hopeful for describing the socialist saying “Patria o muerte, venceremos” as “inspiring” and for claiming the phrase was swiped from liberty-seeking Cubans by leftist admirers of Castro.
The phrase, which means “Fatherland or death, we shall overcome,” was bellowed as a political speech sign-off by the dictator for decades. ~The Boston Herald

Wow.  This has to be the most disastrous ethnic pander gaffe ever.  What’s worse is that Romney knew that Chavez and Castro use this phrase, and he went ahead and said it anyway because he thought he understood Cuban patriotism better than the Cubans.  Always a mistake. 

There are good reasons why English-speakers should campaign in English, rather than lamely attempt to show solidarity with ethnic voters by speaking in their language.  The most obvious is that the potential for misunderstanding or mispronunciation is much, much greater.  The other is that you will use phrases that seem harmless or even good to you, but which have terrible associations in the minds of the audience.  This was actually a very easily avoidable error, and Romney’s failure here shows that he is not only a foreign policy dunce (Chavistas proudly use the patria o muerte slogan for a good reason–it is now a long-standing commie revolutionary slogan and everyone paying attention would know this) but he is also an absolute political disaster waiting to happen.  Can you imagine trusting this man to represent the country to the rest of the world?  His rhetorical bumbling might well start a war somewhere.   

It does Romney no good to say that the slogan “ought” to belong to a free Cuba.  Cuban-Americans and Cubans immediately associate it with Castro and communism, because it is inextricably tied up with that regime, and they have grown to loathe what might otherwise theoretically be an expression of genuine patriotic devotion.  The point is that the phrase has always been paired with Castroism–there wasn’t a time when it used to belong to pre-1959 Cuba and was appropriated by the communists.  Romney’s take on this is rather like saying the phrase “great leap forward” or “long march” shouldn’t belong to communists, either, because the phrases might be put to better use by someone else.  It doesn’t matter whether someone else might be able to use them or should be able to use them.  These are phrases indelibly marked by their communist usage and stained with the blood of its victims.  Only the rhetorically inept and politically mindless would attempt to transform the meaning of a phrase with an audience that very likely immediately associates it with everything they hate.  For his next tricks, Romney will go to the Republican Jewish Coalition and say that allahu akbar should belong to the Jewish people, and then he can go to a group of Armenian-Americans and say that “union and progress” are words that should belong to all Armenians.

Update: Ed Morrisey demonstrates that he doesn’t understand rhetoric or Cubans any better than Mitt Romney.  The people listening to the speech knew what Romney was trying to say.  They were just appalled and deeply offended by his lame attempt to tell them that the slogan associated with their most hated enemy is actually a nifty expression of their own deepest desires.  Instead of immediately backing down and acknowledging his error, Romney wants to insist that he meant this insulting gesture (which is how it was taken) in only the most friendly way.     


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