MIAMI (AP) _ Free trade is key to ending Latin American poverty, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Saturday while courting support from the Cuban-American and growing Venezuelan-American communities.
``Trade lifts all nations that participate,'' Romney said when asked how he would end poverty and other conditions that have given rise to leaders such as Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, who has been a close ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, noted that the Bush administration had sought free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and Peru, but the Democratic-controlled Congress failed to approve them.
``We'd like to see more agreements, not fewer, to improve the economic well-being of our neighborhood,'' he said.
Romney, however, stopped short of endorsing a proposal by Isilio Arriaga, a member of his own National Hispanic Steering Committee, to lower subsidies on U.S. ethanol. Such a move could help boost Brazil's production of sugar cane-based ethanol and reduce its competition.
It also could help keep left-leaning Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as a key U.S. ally against Chavez, said Arriaga, a Venezuelan-American consultant and former Florida official.
Romney said the United States, as it seeks to become more self-reliant, must look at a variety of options for producing energy from sources such as ethanol, liquid coal, solar and wind.
South Florida's Venezuelan-American community holds far fewer votes than its Cuban-American counterpart. But it is growing, has cash and has a strong influence in South Florida's Spanish-language airwaves. More than 80,000 Venezuelans live in Florida, roughly half of all Venezuelans in this country, according to the U.S. Census.
Romney said Chavez's push to nationalize some Venezuelan industries has cooled international interest in Latin American investment, and the U.S. must show its commitment to the region.
``Following 9/11, we understandably focused our attention on the Middle East and have not paid enough attention to our interests in the region, our own hemisphere,'' he said.
Romney also spoke to veterans of the ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion at their small museum in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood and promised to seek out their intelligence expertise on Cuba if elected president.
But it wasn't his foreign policy as much as his opposition to abortion and emphasis on family that supporters said they found attractive.
``Everyone talks about family values, but Romney has demonstrated them with his five sons and his long marriage,'' said Adam Roig, 51, who works in medical technology.