Drug Policy

Mitt and the Coke Smuggler: The Day That Romney Was Briefly Interesting

Why Mitt Romney didn't run screaming for the hills when he discovered his campaign stop host was a convicted felon is a question that won't get an answer.

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But if it were a medical marijuana dispensary …

On Monday afternoon, Mitt Romney and Sen. Marco Rubio made a campaign appearance at a Miami juice shop, giving brief speeches and filming an ad. Of interest: The shop's owner was a convicted cocaine smuggler. Francisco Alvarado at the Miami New Times got the scoop Monday morning:

The Republican presidential candidate is holding an afternoon rally at Palacio de los Jugos (7085 Coral Way), which is owned by Reinaldo Bermudez, who served three years in federal prison after pleading guilty in 1999 to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

Bermudez, AKA "El Guajiro," was a member of 12-person ring that was busted in 1997 for attempting to smuggle more than a ton of yeyo disguised as fish and soap into three South Florida ports. According to Bermudez's indictment, some of his co-conspirators had nicknames straight out of a Hollywood movie, like "Ali Baba," "Skeletor," "Buckwheat," and "Stump."

The plot twist about this appearance is that this wasn't an embarrassing vetting mistake. The Romney campaign knew about Bermudez's background and did it anyway:

Reached by telephone, Bermudez tells Banana Republican that the Secret Service vetted everything about him when the Romney campaign asked to use his fruit and vegetable stand, one of several he owns in Miami-Dade.

"They absolutely knew about my record," Bermudez says. "The Secret Service checked everything. [The conviction] was not a problem. Everybody deserves a second chance."

As a convicted felon, Bermudez will not be able to vote, and that's not likely to change even if Romney wins:

In January, during a Republican presidential debate, then-candidate Rick Santorum pushed Romney to make the following statement about ex-convicts who have served their time. "I don't think people who have committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote," Romney said. 

The Associated Press picked up the story but didn't really do much with it. The Romney campaign did not respond to calls for comment, a big disappointment. This campaign stop was genuinely interesting. Yeah, there's absolutely zero chance that Romney would have had anything interesting to say about the drug war (and we're talking about cocaine, when it's still a struggle to get politicians who have actually smoked marijuana to stop arresting people for it). Reuters got pictures from the event, but oddly, didn't report Romney's comments. Romney's blog has a video from a speech earlier in the day elsewhere in Florida, but not Miami. It would not surprise me if it were fundamentally the same speech.

For the first time in this campaign, though, I actually wanted to know the thinking behind Romney and his team, and now nobody wants to talk about it. Does personal enterprise trump the eternal evil eye of judgment some conservatives toss at any (non-white-collar) ex-cons they encounter? Does he at least believe in drug sentencing reform? Am I overthinking it, and there was just a communication breakdown? And what does it mean that this incident that might have ended up as a scandal (not that it should have been, mind you) was barely a blip during the media vetting of veepstakes winner Rep. Paul Ryan?

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  1. Maybe its simply that the Secret Service does their job, and the campaign does its job, and that the latter does not look over the vetting of the former.

    I’m going to go with Mitt saying to the world, “Due to my religion, I am very particular about what I personally consume. But I will not impose my beliefs on others — even on cocaine smugglers.”

  2. The claim in the article is that the Romney campaign knew about the coke smuggler. But the evidence offerred is that the Secret Service knew. It is not necessarily the case that the Service would share every detail with the campaign, or even that the campaign would want them to.

    Also:

    “I don’t think people who have committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote,” Romney said.

    But then if you are going to say that this statement means that things would not change under Romney, you have to establish that a conspiracy to distribute cocaine is a violent crime. I certainly don’t. (He probably does, but it’s far from clear).

    1. “..you have to establish that Romney believes that a conspiracy to distribute cocaine is a violent crime.” is what I meant to write.

  3. Romney seems to be a devout Mormon and Ryan claims the same about his Catholic faith. Both of those faiths value repentance and personal redemption. Why would they refuse to meet a guy who has turned from a life of crime (whether or not you believe it should be a crime) and has become a productive member of society?

    1. He was a productive member of society as a cocaine smuggler. Probably more productive if you go by wealth created.

      1. No, the value of that product was driven up by rent seeking.

  4. Celebrate Entrepreneurship!

  5. Everybody deserves a second chance

    Except Obama.

    1. Way to go all binary on us, you HitundRunpublican, you.

      1. Sorry for being so black-and-white on the subject.

  6. For the first time in this campaign, though, I actually wanted to know the thinking behind Romney and his team, and now nobody wants to talk about it … Am I overthinking it, and there was just a communication breakdown?

    It’s a state Romney must win to have any chance of getting to 270 in the Electoral College, in an area with lots of Latinos, who Romney needs to pander to enough to not suck too badly and lose swing states, and so any Latino businessperson who would let them speak at their store must have been considered good enough.

  7. Mitt’s not good enough. Ryan’s not good enough.

    I guess Reason wants 4 more years of Obama.

    Good thinking, fellas!

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