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Florida debuts 'Communist Victims Day', some ask: What about victims of right-wing despots?

 Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last May after signing the "Victims of Communism Day" bill in Miami.
Marta Lavandier
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AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last May after signing the "Victims of Communism Day" bill in Miami.

Monday is the first “Victims of Communism Day” in Florida’s public schools, according to a new law pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis — but many Floridians, especially some Latinos, wonder why it doesn’t include victims of right-wing dictatorships that have been more numerous in Latin America's history.

DeSantis, a Republican, officially declared the statewide observation, insisting Florida's K-12 students should learn about the brutality of communist regimes like Cuba, the Soviet Union and China. And few people would disagree with that, especially given the repressive left-wing governments ruling not just Cuba but Venezuela and Nicaragua in this hemisphere.

Pictures of the Week Global Photo Gallery
Luis Hidalgo/AP
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AP
A demonstrator is engulfed in flames from a petrol bomb that was thrown at a police vehicle during protests marking the anniversary of the coup that toppled President Salvador Allende and brought dictator General Augusto Pinochet to power 49 years ago, in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022.

But while “Victims of Communism Day” is aimed mostly at Floridians who fled that left-wing tyranny in Latin America, many Floridians have been victims of brutal right-wing despotism in Latin America, too, including regimes in Argentina, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Guatemala, Haiti and, perhaps most infamously, in Chile under Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship.

Leaving that reality out of Florida classrooms, say critics, encourages a dangerously skewed view of dictatorship itself.

Pinochet and Allende
Associated Press
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Special to WGCU
Pinochet and Allende Army Commander Gen. Augusto Pinochet, left, is a member of a Chilean military junta which has asked for the resignation of president Salvador Allende, right. Both shown in 1973.

“If you don’t teach students Pinochet’s atrocities along with Stalin’s or Castro’s atrocities,” said Juan, a Chilean business owner in Miami who asked that his last name not be used, “they can grow up thinking the right-wing atrocities are somehow OK.”

Florida does have a law mandating students learn about Nazi atrocities and the Holocaust. But while DeSantis argues, without much evidence, that too many young Americans are seduced by socialism and communism today, many Latinos worry the the archconservative governor and likely 2024 presidential candidate is simply further demonizing the left — especially Democrats — as communists, which is a frequent GOP m.o. today.

"A lot of people were tortured and killed by the military dictatorship in Brazil," said Bill Duba, a Brazilian psychotherapist in Miami who confronted that right-wing regime as a student there.

"But I think DeSantis' goal is to mystify basically all dictatorships as communist, as leftist. It's disinformation."

Skeptics also point out DeSantis designated “Victims of Communism Day” as the day before Tuesday’s mid-term elections, when DeSantis is seeking a second term.
Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. He has reported on Latin America for almost 30 years - for Newsweek as its Mexico City bureau chief from 1990 to 1996, and for Time as its Latin America bureau chief in Mexico and Miami (where he also covered Florida and the U.S. Southeast) from 1996 to 2013.