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Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich Attempt To Differentiate Themselves On Issues Important to Latinos

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MIAMI -- Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have largely similar opinions on how to deal with Latin American and Cuba. They both want to push for freedom in Cuba, allow Puerto Rico statehood if the commonwealth votes for it and open up more trade with Latin America.

On Friday, in back-to-back speeches in Miami to a right-leaning Hispanic group, the two attempted to set themselves apart.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney called for a special envoy for Latin American issues, an idea that drew applause from the crowd at the Hispanic Leadership Network conference here in Miami, and one that has not been proposed by Gingrich. Romney said the envoy would be responsible for spreading democracy in Latin America, in part by using a marketing strategy.

"We convince people around the world to buy a brown, caramel-colored water called Coca Cola and to pay like a half-day's wage for it, and they'll buy it. We're able to convince people of things that sometimes you scratch your head," Romney said later, adding that he supports Coca Cola. "My goodness, we sell it around the world. And yet democracy, we don't sell that so well."

The issue of freedom for these countries is important to many Latinos in Florida, some of whom fled the authoritarian regime in Cuba and were given automatic citizenship in the United States. Cuban-Americans are more likely to vote Republican than Latinos in general.

Former House Speaker Gingrich also called for more freedom for Latin America and Cuba, pledging, as Romney did, increased trade between the United States and Latin America, as well as support for pro-democracy movements.

But while Romney saved his criticisms for President Barack Obama, whom he said had failed in nearly every issue relating to Latinos and Latin America, Gingrich took some time to go after Romney.

"We now come to the question about what to do with 11 million, plus or minus, illegal immigrants who are already here," Gingrich said. "This is where I have a deep disagreement with Governor Romney, and I really think it's worth exploring."

Gingrich said "self-deportation" -- an idea that Romney brought up during a debate on Monday -- does work for young undocumented immigrants without ties to the community. But he reiterated the idea that people with children, grandchildren and other ties to the United States would be unlikely to leave voluntarily, standing by his position that some could stay. (That position is less liberal than some people paint it as: They would first need to be approved by a citizen review board, which may be less willing to accept them.)

"I got attacked by Romney and others as though I had sold out on America. They started yelling, 'amnesty,'" Gingrich said, stating again that Romney's idea is a "fantasy."

Gingrich said his plan is the only feasible one for dealing with undocumented immigration.

"I think it is a doable, practical, enforceable step, and I would hope that you would support the idea that we can actually finally get to the point within five years where no one is in America illegally," he said.

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