On Friday, June 19, 2020 on the front page above the fold this newspaper ran a story by Ana Ceballos of The News Service of Florida titled “Farmworkers: DeSantis’ remarks ‘shameful’”. The first and second sentences of the story are: “Farm workers are pushing back after Gov. Ron DeSantis said clusters of ‘overwhelmingly Hispanic’ day laborers and agriculture workers are the source for Florida’s recent surge in coronavirus cases.” Fact: What Gov. DeSantis said, at approximately 11 minutes into the speech was “They are also looking at construction workers and other types of day laborers. They are finding that these are overwhelmingly Hispanic workers and day laborers, but they were in northwest Florida, contact-traced to the households”. Note: During this part of the speech Gov. DeSantis was showing a slide with the title “Construction Workers in Northwest Florida.”
The governor never said day laborers and agriculture workers were the cause of the recent surge. He was explaining several reasons for the surge in cases, the foremost reason for which was much more testing but included other causes such as long-term care facilities, prisons and jails, and migrant workers. You can hear the entire speech on YouTube.
The story says, “The Republican governor told reporters on Tuesday that migrant workers and Hispanic construction workers have been testing positive for COVID-19, in part, because of cramped living and working conditions.” Fact: In order to test positive, one must be tested.
The story goes on to say that members of the tightly knit agricultural enclave say it isn’t the farmworkers’ fault that they are getting sick. Fact: The governor never said or even implied it was the farmworkers’ fault they were getting sick.
The story says: Antonio Tovar, executive director of the Farmworkers Association of Florida, accused DeSantis of ignoring pleas from a coalition of 50 groups that asked the governor for help in late April. “We sent this letter to the governor more than two months ago and now he is realizing that foreign workers are more suitable to get infected. That is shameful because he was advised, he was told when we sent the letter,” Tovar told The News Service of Florida…” The letter asked for more testing, more personal protective gear and for alternative housing for workers who live in crowded conditions. Fact: In the very speech to which Mr. Tovar is referring, the governor explained that much of the recent increase in coronavirus cases was due to a significant increase in testing, particularly of long-term care patients, migrant workers and prisoners. It is absolutely true that the governor did not issue new houses to the migrant workers.
The story says Silvia Perez, who works for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, said DeSantis’ comments were hurtful to Immokalee workers. She said, “When you hear those comments, it’s like … Wow, why does he not value us?”
I have been over this entire speech several times and I have been over this story several times and I can find absolutely nothing even remotely shameful, hurtful or negative that the governor said regarding migrant workers. So, why would Antonio Tovar say it was shameful and why would Silvia Perez say it was hurtful? Also, why would a reporter for The News Service of Florida clearly misstate the content of the governor’s speech?
Tim Dowling is a Sebring resident. Guest columns are the opinion of the writer, not necessarily that of the Highlands News-Sun.