During the entire presidential campaign season, the media have been telling us that this is the year when Latino voters can swing the swing states and determine who gets to be president.
The hype over the alleged power of the Hispanic vote in some of the most highly-contested states has rightfully concerned the politicians, especially the Democrats who have taken Latinos for granted and the Republicans who have waged war on immigrants.
But what about those Latino voters who finally matter?
Apparently, the media doesn't believe its own hype.
If it did — if the Latino vote really was as important as the media tells us it is — the journalists who moderated the presidential debates would have raised Latino issues, right?
But we got nada from the moderators. The Latino vote they have been hyping was expediently forsaken. When Latino voters were trying to determine which candidate would best represent them, it was the journalists who failed to speak for them.
As if it wasn't enough that immigration was totally ignored in the first (domestic issues) debate, and that it took a Latina in the audience to raise that issue in the second (town hall) debate, Monday night's (foreign policy) debate was disgracefully absent of a serious discussion on Latin America.
Although moderator Bob Schieffer began the debate by recalling that it marked the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, he never came back to Latin America - even though the country that caused the crisis still is a Communist dictatorship.
Had it not been for Mitt Romney, who briefly cited Latin America as a potentially greater trading partner for the United States, our own hemisphere would have been entirely ignored in the so-called foreign policy debate.
Some sample debate questions:
How would your government deal with the spread of socialism in Latin America? How would you promote democracy in a region of the world where caudillos keep finding ways to stay in power indefinitely? Which Latin American country is ready for a new free trade agreement? If Puerto Ricans vote for statehood in a non-binding referendum on Nov. 6, would you try to honor their wishes by driving Puerto Rican statehood through congress?
What would you do to stop the senseless drug war in Mexico? Can it spill over the border? Was Operation Fast and Furious (to arm and supposedly track drug traffickers) a good idea?
What preventive measures can we take to reduce the number of people who are forced to immigrate here by economic hardships? How do we assist the economies of the countries feeding us so many undocumented immigrants, so that people no longer feel the need to find better jobs here?
American citizen Alan Gross is rotting in a Cuban prison — what would you do to get him out? What are you prepared to do to support the dissident movement in Cuba? Will there be an opening for better relations with Cuba when Fidel Castro dies? If Hugo Chavez comes to the U.N. and calls you "the devil," how would you respond? And when Chavez embraces our enemies, doesn't that make him our enemy, too? Are you comfortable with Chavez's relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? And what about Chavez's other Latino comrades — Bolivia's Evo Morales, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, Ecuador's Rafael Correa — do you consider them our amigos? Even when they too have embraced our enemies in the Middle East?
Those are just some of a trillion foreign policy questions Latinos were begging to see someone ask the presidential candidates in a debate. And yet, even before Monday's debate began, when organizers announced the areas of the world the debate would cover, it became evident that Schieffer had no intention of going anywhere near Latin America.
In a debate where the moderator was expected to keep the discussion on foreign policy, the candidates spent more time speaking about Detroit and the auto industry than about some three dozen countries in our own hemisphere. It was disgraceful.
Schieffer's failure to ask at least one question on U.S. relations with Latin America in the third debate was as negligent to Latino interests as Jim Lehrer's failure to bring up immigration in the first debate.
Here we have two media giants who feel they can afford to disrespect a segment of the population that, according to the media, has the numbers to demand more respect. Go figure!
But the blame for ignoring Latino issues should not go entirely to the moderators. If the candidates found ways to talk about domestic policy even when they were supposed to be discussing foreign affairs, certainly they could have found more ways to steer the discussion to the Americas, as Romney did when he leaped from a discussion on China and said he would expand trade with Latin America, or when he suggested that Obama has been soft on Chavez, Castro and other U.S. adversaries.
"As a matter of fact, Latin America's economy is almost as big as the economy of China," Romney said. "We're all focused on China. Latin America is a huge opportunity for us: time zone, language opportunity."
Surprisingly, even when Romney gave Obama these small windows to discuss Latin America and reach out to Latino voters, the president went AWOL.
Just when we think the Democrats have learned their lesson, when we no longer expect them to take Latinos for granted, back they come with their old bad habits.
Since Romney has done so much immigrant bashing to earn the wrath of Latinos, and since the polls show Obama thrashing Romney among Latino voters, perhaps the president already has begun to ignore us, even before he gets reelected with our support.
Nevertheless, in Monday's debate, both Romney and Obama missed a huge opportunity to appeal to Latinos and affect the polls measuring the Hispanic vote.
Imagine how the Latino voter polls would be shifting if either candidate had been daring enough to correct Schieffer's foreign affairs priorities. Imagine what could have happened if either Obama or Romney had said, "With all due respect Mr. Schieffer, this can't be just about the Middle East and China. You are leaving huge portions of the world out of this debate, and I don't feel comfortable leaving our hemispheric neighbors out of this discussion."
It would have been a slam-dunk.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.