MIAMI (CBSMiami) – With the 2020 Presidential Election on the horizon, we take a look back at the 2000 President Election with a new HBO documentary titled ‘537 Votes.’ which debuts next Wednesday, October 21 on HBO and HBO Max.
CBS4’s Lauren Pastrana and Steve Goldstein caught up with director, producer, and lifelong Miamian Billy Corben to discuss his documentary.
It is a high-charge feature that chronicles the political machinations that led to the unprecedented contested outcome of the 2000 Presidential Election.
The 2000 Presidential Election Saga came down to 537 Votes.
So, why this film, at this moment, 20 years later?
“Well, first and foremost, is the 20th anniversary of course of the Florida recount the second I think there’s a lot of lessons to be learned from what happened, specifically down here in Miami- Dade, and what we may experience in the next several weeks with this election so in built up, particularly timely,” Corben said.
The documentary begins with the story of Elian Gonzalez and the political firestorm that grew from that.
CBS4’s Lauren Pastrana asked why is the Elian story critical and how was it critical to the 2000 Presidential Election.
“Yeah, 537 Votes is really a year in the life of Miami-Dade County, starting in November of 1999. Shortly before Elian Gonzalez arrived on the shores of South Florida on Thanksgiving, and goes all the way to the conclusion of the 2000 Presidential Election, which is nearly Christmas of December of 2000 speaking of sneak previews and what we may experience here, but really Elian Gonzalez set the scene because you haven’t blocked him super voters and the Cuban exile community who obviously galvanized around this issue and after the Clinton administration, under the direction of Janet Reno raided the home of the Miami relatives in Little Havana to reunite the boy with his father and send him back to Cuba.”
“They declared these Cuban American voters vote them ‘voto castigo. The Revenge vote, which is basically a ballot box fatwa against Al Gore, despite the fact that he broke with the Clinton ministration and actually supported Eliot Gonzalez staying in the United States. It didn’t matter, they wanted revenge against the Clinton administration, Janet Reno, and then we’re going to get it through Al Gore.”
Pastrana: “In some ways, this feels like one of the strategies of the 2000 playbook is being used again this year with the Republican Party’s attempt to align democrats with socialism and communism. Talk about how it was deployed back in 2000 and what’s happening today. I know you just touched on Elian, but what other similarities are you seeing?”
Corben: “Yeah, I think, Fernando Mondi says it best in the documentary, and he says, Republicans discovered early on that they could weaponize the Cuba issue by using the C-word; communists and labeling usually fall asleep, almost always falsely someone a communist. That kind of demagoguery is very effective amongst Cuban American voters who have devoted voters. In fact, super voters. And so, that is a tactic that has been tried and true, an employee, 20 years ago, just as it is today.”
Goldstein: “Other themes that emerged in the film. One of them all politics are local. And number two, a lot of people are hearing this expression lately: Elections have consequences. What do you want people who watch this documentary to really take away from it.”
Corben: “Vote! First and foremost, and not just in presidential elections but to your point, in all elections down-ballot elections, off-year elections, local elections, most importantly, because I think what you discover from ‘537 Votes’ is our local elected officials and the individuals that they, in turn, appointed positions and bureaucrats may have an outsized influence on things like national elections and elections in general. We need to make sure that we have people that we can trust and good people in those positions, and in order to do that, we need to be more involved in those local elections.”
Pastrana: “In a little teaser, we saw we saw Roger Stone, Congressman Diaz, Rick Sanchez. Who else might we see in this film that will be very familiar to those of us here in South Florida?”
Corben: “Yeah, there’s gonna be some dangerous drinking games going on in HBO next Wednesday from Miamians, I gotta tell you what we’re considering doing a locals-only bingo card.”
“Watch for DJ Khaled, Trina, Joe Carollo, Alex Paneles, and La Carreta. There are a lot of classic only-in-Miami moments that I think people down here will appreciate, even more so than the national audience.”
Pastrana: “Do you think this election is going to be one of those “Because Florida moments” again?”
Corben: “Oh, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. I think the question is, how many Floridas, will there be. Meaning how and what kind of shenanigans of the like that we saw in 2000, will we see in other states?”
“How many books Brooks Brothers riots? Like we saw in Miami where violence and intimidation stopped a Democratic Election. How many of those will we see all over the country? I think that’s the only question for election night this year.”
The HBO documentary “537 Votes” debuts October 21, 2020, on HBO and HBO Max.
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