In-Depth

As Trump Refuses To Concede, Some South Americans In Houston Are Reminded Of Home

While some voiced uncertainty about a peaceful transfer of power, others trust the U.S. electoral process.

President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington. The president’s legal entanglements are likely to intensify when leaves the White House in January 2021 and loses immunity from prosecution.

President Donald Trump maintains that he is the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election and that the election was fraudulent — despite not providing any evidence, and losing multiple legal challenges.

In Texas, prominent Republicans, like Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, have also refused to acknowledge Trump's loss.

The move is unprecedented, and has many Houstonians closely watching the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election, including South Americans, who've lived through power grabs in their home countries.

For some of them, Trump's refusal to accept the results has them anxious about a peaceful transition.

Thirty years ago, Lucho Silva came to Katy after leaving his home country of Chile. It was right when the 17-year military dictatorship was ending.

He remembers the military police arresting him and his musician friends for having long hair.

“It was very scary,” he said, “They would pick us up on the street and they would cut your hair.”

Police targeted him because he played anti-government music in the band "Caos".

Back then, Silva lived in fear of police. Throughout the dictatorship thousands were arrested and disappeared, never again seen by their friends and family.

Now Silva lives in the suburbs, is in his 50s, has kids and is a manager at an electric company. But he's been nervous about the political situation in the United States — especially now that President Trump refuses to concede.

“We already went a couple weeks ago to get our Chilean passports because we really don't know,” Silva said.

Even if chances Trump's actions are just a glimpse of something that could happen, he said, he doesn't want to take any chances. He called Trump a "dictator wannabe,” whose tactics remind him of the division and lack of information during Chile's military regime.

International journalism student and former Houston Public Media intern Daniela Benites is from Venezuela, and said she's also uneasy about the transfer of power.

“If I don't watch Joe Biden and Kamala Harris walking into the White House… I'm not going to believe it's happening until that happens because he keeps saying the elections were rigged,” said Benites.

She studies at the University of Houston and said she sees similar undercurrents of fanaticism and disinformation when it comes to Trump and Venezuela's authoritarian leader Nicolas Maduro.

Americans may be too naive about what might happen if Trump refuses to respect the results of the election, she said.

Another Venezuelan, Libia Valdés Gregg, is also watching the transition carefully.

“Every morning I turn the TV on and I say ‘did he go already?,” she said.

She's a media consultant who sees similarities between Trump and Maduro. She said they're both incendiary and divisive, but she said she thinks U.S. democracy is more resistant to a blatant power grab than South American governments.

“I'm not worried in that sense,” Valdés Gregg said. “Not that I'm in denial that things cannot happen here. We have to be alert.”

She said the U.S. has a stronger history of fair elections and that's what will prevail in the end.

Retired energy professional Rafael Caires agrees. He's a Trump supporter from Venezuela. He said the courts will ultimately make the call one way or another.

Caires said he isn't clear on why Trump thinks the results aren't accurate but is giving him the benefit of the doubt for now.

“I suppose (Trump) is doing this for some reason, but he hasn’t explained what that reason is,” Caires said in Spanish.

Either way, he said he hopes it's cleared up in the courts soon, “so people continue to believe in the elections system.”

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Elizabeth Trovall

Elizabeth Trovall

Immigration Reporter

Elizabeth Trovall is an immigration reporter for Houston Public Media. She joined the News 88.7 team after several years abroad in Santiago, Chile, where she reported on business, energy, politics and culture. Trovall's work has been featured on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Marketplace, Here and Now, Latino...

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