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Al Cárdenas’ Fall From Grace: From GOP Darling to Defending Chavista Businessmen and Advising a Soros-funded Group

Al Cárdenas - El American

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AL CÁRDENAS used to be a respected man in Florida. In fact, he became one of the most important Hispanic politicians in the Republican Party, even presiding over the Sunshine State GOP twice, becoming the first Hispanic to lead a major state party.

He was born in Cuba in 1948 and was exiled to the U.S. in 1960. “My parents brought me to this country as a child, without me choosing it, fleeing Castro’s communism. They wanted me to grow up in freedom. If I had not been born in Cuba, I could have been a Dreamer,” said Cardenas in an almost op-ed for CNN en Español.

In that piece, the former GOP darling — because he is now distrusted by his own party — recounted the obstacles he overcame throughout his life as a Cuban American, citing the discrimination that existed in both his personal and professional lives. And there he also attacks, albeit measuredly, political leaders of his party; making a pointed reference to former President Donald Trump for his “bad hombres” comment in 2016.

Al Cárdenas slyly criticizes Trump on CNN, 2019. (Screenshot).

For a while now, Al Cárdenas is no longer relevant. At least as a political leader. From leading the GOP in Florida, chairing the American Conservative Union for three years (2011-2014); being probably the most influential Cuban American politician within conservatism (along with Sens. Rubio and Cruz), he became recognized for simply being the husband of Ana Navarro-Cárdenas, a political commentator of Nicaraguan origin, who claims to be a conservative; but who, like him, is distrusted within the GOP.

But the name of Al Cárdenas, at least in the last few weeks, has come back to prominence. Not as before, but in a secondary role: as an advisor to a young media startup that has generated a lot of controversies nationally and in Miami for the purchase of several Hispanic radio stations.

From GOP Darling to Advisor for a Soros-funded Organization

Latino Media Network (LMN) is a company that bought 18 Hispanic radio stations across the United States, including the famed Radio Mambí, a historically conservative media outlet and pillar of the Cuban American community in South Florida.

The purchase of these stations has been marred by noise. In a research article, El American reported that LMN is a company with seemingly no media experience, yet its owners managed to raise $80 million to start operations. Sixty of those millions were destined for the purchase of these radios, which had been for sale for a couple of years by the Televisa-Univision consortium.

One of the main controversies surrounding LMN is its main financier: Lakestar Finance, an investment entity reportedly affiliated with Soros Fund Management, a company founded by the progressive magnate George Soros.

From the conservative world, it is denounced that the creation of LMN is not only an aggressive commercial move but also a clever political move, since the startup is directed and advised by well-known activists linked to the Democratic Party.

In fact, DNC officials, including Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) — who has advocated for the censorship of conservative media in Florida — have celebrated the creation of LMN and the purchase of the 18 Hispanic radio stations.

But LMN insists on selling a balanced image. They assure that the staff, as well as the directors and advisors of the media, are of all political tendencies; and, to this end, they recurrently mention the presence of politicians such as Al Cárdenas, with a past related to the Republican Party.

Al Cardenas’ Fall from GOP Grace

To separate Al Cárdenas from the GOP, one only has to check a tweet, published this June 28 by the official account of the Republican Party of Florida: “Al Cárdenas is not a member of the RPOF and does not speak for us either. There is nothing that justifies Soros Radio in Florida.”

Florida GOP v. Al Cárdenas (Screenshot)

The Florida Republican Party’s tweet is in response to a failed attempt by Darren Soto to portray LMN as a bipartisan communications project.

Not only did the Republican Party of Florida express its discontent with Cárdenas, Giancarlo Sopo — Republican media strategist — showed concern about the former Florida GOP chairman’s support for the Soros-funded media outlet in a message sent to El American.

“What’s happened to Mr. Cardenas? How does one go from chairing CPAC to helping leftist radicals silence conservative voices? In this case, he’s tearing down a cultural institution that has helped him in his career. People are wondering what’s his true motive here. Perhaps he’ll recognize he made a mistake and apologize. Everyone is surprised by his newfound appreciation for radical leftism. Disgraceful, indeed.”

Giancarlo Sopo on Al Cárdenas.

Now, discontent from the conservative world towards Al Cárdenas is not limited simply to his new position as a consultant in a media startup that wants to silence conservative media, but also because of his political activism against the Republican Party and conservatism.

On Twitter, Cárdenas has been a harsh critic of Donald Trump since he became president, following a very similar approach to that of the embattled group Lincoln Project. There are tens and tens of tweets that contrast with his soft approach to the Biden administration.

Al Cárdenas in one of his many anti-Trump tweets.

In fact, in 2016, in an interview for Spanish newspaper El País, Cárdenas admitted that he had voted for Donald Trump only out of political “loyalty” to the GOP and because he was sure Hillary Clinton would win the election. That interview is a preview of what Cárdenas’ relationship with Trump, the Republican Party and the conservative world would look like in the coming years.

Cardenas’ transformation — from conservative Reaganite to practically progressive ally — became so evident that the “Republican” has been posting controversial tweets closer to the far left than to a supposedly moderate politician, even suggesting a call for violence against the Supreme Court for its recent institutional decisions. ” Perhaps SCOTUS does not need security after all.”

Al Cardenas’ increasingly left-leaning views also coincide with his marriage to Ana Navarro in 2019. Both are similar cases: strategists or politicians who were in the ranks of the GOP, but drifted away from their party as Trump’s influence increased.

From Defender of Reagan to Defender of Socialist Corruption

Al Cárdenas may claim that he walked away from the Republican Party because he disagrees with Donald Trump or the direction the GOP was headed. However, on his record as a lawyer, he has a couple of controversies on his back that call into question his convictions as a conservative and traditional Republican.

According to an investigation published in Infodio, a website of researcher Alek Boyd, the law firm Tew Cárdenas (now closed and where Al Cárdenas was one of the main partners) legally represented a controversial Venezuelan company: Derwick Associates.

It is reportedly one of the shadiest and most corrupt firms in the history of Venezuela. Founder Alejandro Betancourt is an opaque character who became a multimillionaire thanks to 11 fraudulent contracts granted by the Chavista regime to build thermoelectric plants. Derwick’s name is so tainted that it is even linked to Chavismo’s number two, Diosdado Cabello — indicted for drug trafficking in the United States — who, according to a lawsuit, received a $50 million bribe from Derwick to obtain contracts with the Venezuelan state.

That lawsuit was filed in 2014 by journalist and activist Thor Halvorssen Mendoza. Tew Cárdenas was still representing Derwick. In fact, Joe DeMaria, one of the lawyers for Al Cárdenas’ firm, told El Nuevo Herald that his “clients build power plants. They supply electricity to millions of Venezuelans. Thor Halvorssen doesn’t build anything. He is an arrogant blogger who hides behind his so-called Human Rights Foundation.”

DeMaria’s statement becomes more meaningful over the years because six of the eleven contracts awarded by Chavismo to Derwick were with Corpoelec, the Venezuelan state-owned corporation in charge of the electricity sector throughout the South American country that today is responsible for the devastation of its service.

In other words, to a large extent, Derwick and Alejandro Betancourt are directly responsible for the debacle of the Venezuelan electrical system and the energy tragedy that has plagued (and continues to plague) Venezuela.

In his article, Boyd criticizes Cárdenas by questioning his political convictions: “Cárdenas is, of course, entitled to make a living representing any crook and thief, but is it really lawful for the conservative movement to ennoble him as its anointed leader, when his firm persecutes Venezuela’s crumbling opposition?”

Mores Ties to Chavismo?

However, Al Cardenas’ dealings related to Venezuela do not end with Derwick Associates. Boyd himself in Infodio revealed that Tew Cárdenas, in 2007, legally represented Fernández Barrueco, another businessman who became monstrously rich thanks to shady contracts with Venezuela’s socialist government related to the food sector.

Barrueco was so closely linked to the upper echelons of Chavismo that he even managed all imports and sales of MERCAL, the multi-million dollar food program subsidized by the Chavista regime.

Boyd tells that Barrueco became a multimillionaire in a matter of years due to the intimate relationship he built with the late Hugo Chávez, going from being a simple valet and a nobody in the Venezuelan business world, to a businessman with 270 shady companies and a fortune estimated at $1.6 trillion.

“And this is where more questions need to be asked about Al Cárdenas’ integrity,” Boyd wrote in Infodio. “Tew Cárdenas, his law firm, represented Fernández Barrueco with regard to a jet that was seized by the DEA in Miami in 2007. Fernández Barrueco was also believed to be involved in drug trafficking, although this accusation was never proven in court. He was, however, found guilty of registering a plane with false credentials, for which he agreed to pay more than $1 million.”

“How can Al Cárdenas, and FTI Consulting, defend whatever integrity and credibility they think they have, in light of their rather indefensible choice of clients?” the Venezuelan investigator lashed out.

In the end, Al Cárdenas, presented by Democrats as the conservative counterweight within the Latino Media Network, is a politician marred by controversy and far from representing Florida’s conservative voices. Harassed for his progressive stances and his defense of major corruption kingpins in Venezuela, Cardenas now advises the Soros’ media startup that seeks to shut down conservative voices in the Hispanic world.

Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.

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