If you’re Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo, the former is an offensive jab if uttered by a certain Cuban-American police chief, while the latter is apparently fair game in the carnival tent that is Miami politics.
In at least three mailers paid for by Miami First, Carollo’s campaign committee, Carollo’s District 3 opponent Quinn Smith is Photoshopped wearing the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez’s trademark red beret and accused of accepting money from “narcotrafficking dictator” Nicolás Maduro. A resident who asked not to be named in this story for fear of retribution tells New Times they receive four to five of the flyers each week.
“Quinn Smith has his hands stained with blood from the dirty money that the Chavista dictatorship has paid him,” one mailer stated. “Candidate Quinn Smith has been hired as an attorney to defend the narcotrafficking Venezuelan dictatorship, while they murder, abuse and incarcerate thousands of young Venezuelans.”
Four actively campaigning candidates are on the November 2 ballot for District 3, which includes Little Havana and parts of Silver Bluff. But Andriana Oliva and Miguel Soliman haven’t received the endorsements Smith has — from the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and from former U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell — nor raised as much money as the roughly $70,000 Smith has in his war chest.
Carollo, who has raised nearly $550,000, has been a fixture in Miami politics for more than 40 years as city mayor and commissioner. He has, however, faced recent pubic criticism in connection with a series of embarrassing public meetings he presided over to chastise (now-former) Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo, who had accused Carollo and other commissioners of public corruption. The owners of the Ball & Chain restaurant are also suing city officials, including Carollo, for $28 million, alleging harassment and abuse of power.
To gain an advantage in his race, Carollo has resorted to a classic tactic in local elections: send out a ton of campaign flyers lobbing wild claims at your foe.
In one flyer, Smith is seen smiling in a Photoshopped-in red beret and surrounded with gruesome images of bleeding citizens and police in riot gear. The text reads, “If candidate Quinn Smith, attorney defending the Chavista dictatorship doesn’t care that his client, the narco Venezuelan government abuses it’s [sic] own people, then how can we believe that we matter to him?”
As ludicrous as the mailers appear, they do contain the tiniest kernel of truth.
Quinn Smith is an international law attorney with GST LLP, a law firm whose clients include sovereign governments like the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Venezuela.
In 2019, after the U.S. formally recognized Venezuela’s National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as the acting president of Venezuela (not Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro), Guaidó appointed a new board of directors to Citgo, the Venezuelan government-owned petroleum company. Because Citgo is headquartered in the United States, the former board of directors — a group of business leaders handpicked by Maduro — hired Smith’s firm to represent them in Delaware’s state supreme court.
“The question in that case was: Who gets to name the board of directors? You had a board who was named prior to Mr. Guaidó being named interim president, and a board named after that,” Smith explains to New Times. “We never once denied that Mr. Guaidó has been recognized as interim president of Venezuela, and I never would. The question was whether [Venezuela’s] National Assembly could decide who was in control of a U.S. company.”
In August 2019, the judge ruled against Smith’s clients, stating that Trump’s recognition of Guaidó validated his board appointments.
Smith says he understands that some people in Miami, including those he hopes will vote for him, may perceive his connection to the Maduro-backed business leaders as a black eye for his campaign. But he asserts that an attorney is not defined by the clients he represents.
“It’s important to keep in mind how this causes concern and I apologize for that,” Smith says. “But people [in Miami] have very dire needs, and what they want is somebody to fight for them.”
Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago wrote in a recent scathing op-ed about the police-chief debacle that Miami leaders “use anti-communism for nefarious purposes” — which, when it comes to Carollo’s campaign, is an understatement.
Carollo did not respond to numerous requests for comment via text, email, and voice messages left with his chief of staff.